Exams still the best guarantee of fairness, expert group says

Anonymously marked exam papers are still the best way of guaranteeing consistent standards in Scottish schools, a group of experts says.

The future of the exams system is in question following the decision to scrap the last two exam diets due to the pandemic.

The future of the exams system is in question following the decision to scrap the last two exam diets due to the pandemic.

The Scottish Government is due to make a decision in August on whether the 2022 exams will go ahead.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Ahead of this, the Commission on School Reform, which is led by Dr Keir Bloomer, has published a paper titled Exams – Do We Need Them?

It concluded that while coursework is an important part of the assessment system, anonymously marked exams remain the best way of guaranteeing that standards are consistent and results are equitable between different social groups.

The paper said a system based purely on teacher judgement could result in unintentional bias for or against certain social groups, such as a “halo effect” around affluent pupils who have previously performed well.

Dr Bloomer said: “Examinations are not good at everything. Coursework can assess skills and understanding that examinations cannot.

“However the experience of exam cancellations over the last couple of years tells us all we need to know about the important role that exams play in ensuring quality, consistent marking, and equity across the social divide.

“They test memory and focus, and teach young people how to consolidate knowledge over short periods of time, which are important and useful skills for life and work.”

He continued: “Furthermore, anonymous marking is effectively insurance against the sort of rapid grade inflation that ultimately only ends when every pupil returns straight As, which would do no favours to either individual pupils or the country as a whole.

“If Scotland were to scrap exams altogether, as some wish, it would put us out of step with the rest of the world, which increasingly relies on a hybrid model of coursework and exams.

“That should be our future, too.”

In December last year, the International Council of Education Advisers recommended scrapped “out of date” high school examinations and replacing them with continuous assessment.

They said the pandemic had exposed the underlying problems with exams like National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers.