Leaders: No room for failing pupils on exam reform

ANY big change in education is a stressful time for the teaching profession. When two big changes are happening simultaneously, the stress was always going to be compounded.

Success of education changes depends on teachers. Picture: PA
Success of education changes depends on teachers. Picture: PA
Success of education changes depends on teachers. Picture: PA

So some anxiety among Scotland’s teachers was perhaps to be expected with the introduction of new exams in secondary schools, in addition to the already challenging implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

But the level of worry among teachers we highlight in our news pages today is surely beyond the realms of simple teething problems with the unfamiliar.

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The results of the survey by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association are nothing short of alarming. Almost 60 per cent of the 1,500 teachers who responded admitted that they were unable to deliver the necessary course materials to prepare pupils for the new National 4 and 5 exams, which are replacing the old Standard Grades.

Given that schoolchildren are due to sit these exams in around four months’ time, this news is not – to say the least – going to instil confidence in these pupils and their parents.

Mike Russell, the Cabinet secretary for education, has been aware for some time of a rising panic within the secondary school sector on the new exams. His approach has been to try to steady nerves, to promise extra funding for the necessary teaching materials, and then to press on. Extra in-service days have been provided for teachers in the hope that they can catch up with the necessary preparation work.

Whether this approach has been sufficient can only be judged when the dust has settled in the summer, with the exams sat and marked, and the whole exercise properly assessed.

But the signs are not encouraging. Mr Russell needs no reminding about the rumblings in the teaching profession, nor of the high stakes in trying to make these reforms work.

There can be little doubt that both CfE and the new National exams are positive steps forward for Scottish education. But Mr Russell needs to take this survey seriously because the success of the changes depends on these people at the chalkface who, it would appear, are not waving but drowning.

This is not just a row about working conditions between employees and employer. Nor is it one of those structural changes every organisation goes through from time to time, which invariably settles into a new rhythm after a year or so.

That is not an option here. This is about Scotland’s children – their education and their future. There is already a concern among parents about the piecemeal implementation of these exams, and whether their children are being used as guinea pigs.

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Children only get one shot at an education. The teenagers sitting Nationals this spring need the new system to work first time, and work well.

E-cigarette ban does more harm than good

THE attitude of the health lobby to the advent of e-cigarettes is a curious one. These, after all, are devices that are largely used as a safer alternative to cigarettes.

And yet the attitude of public health specialists towards this technological innovation is a punitive one, as evidenced by the latest move to persuade Glasgow 2014 to ban their use in and around the venues for this summer’s Commonwealth Games.

The reasons given are twofold. First, campaigners say it will make it easier to enforce the ban on normal cigarettes and, second, it will “help put the appearance of smoking cigarettes out of fashion”.

There may be some superficial logic to the first point. But the second surely misses the key point about e-cigarettes – that they are primarily used by smokers who are trying to wean themselves off tobacco, and who see these electronic devices as a staging post to giving up completely.

Does the health lobby have any evidence that people who do not smoke tobacco are taking up e-cigarettes? Does it have evidence that e-cigarettes are an “entry-level” way of getting children hooked on normal cigarettes?

Without such evidence, it is hard to countenance such a harsh crackdown on something that is, for many people, a crucial part of their efforts to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. This is zealotry, plain and simple, and it risks doing more harm than good.

And surely if Public health minister Michael Matheson says they have not been proven to be “safe and effective,” given his job title, more wide-ranging action should be taken against them.