End looms for handwritten exams in Scottish schools

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Scottish schools are predicted to phase out handwritten exams over the next decade.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said it would be much more unusual to have handwritten exams in future.

But an end to hard copies in the examination system will hinge on suitable equipment being available in all schools amid concerns a roll-out of electronic exams may lead to an equality imbalance.

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement Scotland, Mrs Brown said: “The day is not tomorrow that we’ll move away from paper, but I would be surprised if we still had handwritten exams within ten years for a significant number of subjects.

“We will still always need paper exams for subjects such as art and design, but electronic assessment is already used for some courses and society is going that way.

“Before an entire education system moved in that direction, you need to make sure no-one is disadvantaged.”

The SQA suggested greater use of computer-based assessments to combat poor handwriting skills as early as 2014.

A report into that year’s Higher English exam revealed markers had identified “near-illegible” sentences on the papers submitted by some students.

“More markers than ever commented on the poor, sometime near-illegible, handwriting of some candidates, which made it extremely difficult and time-consuming to mark the essay,” the review said.

“While no candidate’s work is ever left unmarked for this reason, centres should do their best to reduce this problem by making alternative arrangements for some candidates.”

Cambridge University has already moved to scrap exams written with a pen and paper due to a decline in the standard of students’ handwriting.

There is growing evidence that teenagers brought up on email, texting and web-based social media sites have lost the ability to write with a pen legibly.

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