New tests dumb down my education

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As an S4 pupil in a Scottish state school, I am writing to express my anger and utter exasperation with the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and, in particular, the new National Qualifications.

My primary concern with these new qualifications is that they are, in my opinion, not nearly as challenging or as rigorous as the previous Standard Grades or Intermediates.

Having completed my N5 prelims last week, I was shocked and saddened at how easy these were when compared with Credit/Int 2 past papers I have done.

Question types which used to require a little exertion now only require one to tick a box. In sciences, formulae which previously had to be memorised are now provided in the exam. According to one of my teachers, marking guidance from the SQA states that, where students would previously be awarded only a half-mark for an answer, a whole mark should now be awarded.

Similarly, the SQA now advises that markers should “look for positives” in order to award marks rather than look for mistakes for which to deduct marks.

The slow but steady simplification of exams year on year aids no-one: good grades become meaningless, qualifications are devalued and hard work goes unrecognised.

From my (somewhat cynical) perspective, simplifying exams benefits only politicians, who are able to sing their own virtues as exam results reach record highs every year.

My second issue is with the unrealistic grade boundaries for these new qualifications. To achieve an A grade, one must only score 70 per cent or above.

In my own school, this was reduced to 65 per cent in Chemistry as a formula was not provided – a formula which would have had to be memorised in years past.

I think it is reasonable to say that 65 per cent does not merit an A grade, and to argue that it does is misleading and offensive to those of us who have made an effort.

More generally, being on the brighter end of the spectrum (and not ashamed to admit it!) I have been consistently disheartened by the one-size-fits-all educational approach in Scotland.

The education authorities’ determination to standardise everything, including children, means that those higher or lower than average get a shoddy deal.

In my opinion, education should be flexible to meet the needs of the student and not the other way around.

In the Falkirk Council area, all pupils are to study six subjects in S4. Why should all students have to study this number when some are not capable of that amount and others are capable of far more? Furthermore, to set six as a standard severely limits pupils’ prospects.

The Curriculum for Excellence was designed to put power into the hands of teachers and allow pupils to think for themselves. But, having borne the brunt of the CfE since primary school, I believe I am qualified to say that, in reality, the CfE has thrust yet more rules, regulations and paperwork on teachers; has discouraged pupils at all costs from thinking independently or following their own learning styles, and has created qualifications which are worth less than the paper on which they are written.

I sincerely hope the Scottish Government and education authorities will see sense and return to the supposedly outmoded, old-fashioned ways, namely that hard work and perseverance should pay off, and laziness or ignorance should not.

For me, it cannot come soon enough.

Flora Scarabello

S4 at St Mungo’s High School

Falkirk