Scotland's replacement Highers system: There will be hell to pay if teachers' fears are borne out – Scotsman comment

In words that clearly spoke for large numbers of Scotland’s teachers and pupils, one head described the ‘alternative certification model’ – the replacement for this year’s cancelled exams – as a “nightmare of stress for both staff and pupils”.

Despite the cancellation of Highers, school pupils are sitting what are effectively exams (Picture: David Jones/PA)

"I have visibly seen the stress on the faces of my staff and the pupils. This has been the worst, most pressurised time of my whole career,” the headteacher added in a remark relayed by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association.

A survey by the union found an astonishing 92 per cent of teachers said their pupils had suffered substantial extra stress as a result of the system, with 96 per cent of teachers saying they had experienced similar pressure.

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Furthermore, just 36 per cent of the teachers polled said they thought the information being collected about pupils was good enough to be a true judge of their abilities, prompting Seamus Searson, the SSTA’s general secretary, to warn of “a large number of disillusioned young people and very unhappy parents” when the grades are handed out.

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As the Scotsman has pointed out before, it was understandable, and almost inevitable, that the replacement assessment process for last year’s cancelled exams would be somewhat chaotic. However, it will be a scandal of the highest magnitude if this year’s system is as shambolic as it currently appears.

The Scottish government and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had a year to draw up a contingency plan for this year’s exams, should they be cancelled, and they have known for certain this was going to happen since December.

Yet pupils have found themselves in a farcical, almost Orwellian, situation. They are sitting “tests” that are somehow, in a Scottish version of Doublespeak, not deemed to be “exams” and which may be based on papers that pupils in other schools have already sat.

The obvious problem is that some children will be able to gain an unfair advantage over their peers, while those without friends in the right places will suffer – for all the SQA’s warning that such cheating could backfire as schools could use different papers.

The grades given to school pupils on the cusp of becoming adults can be life-defining. If the fears of teachers outlined in this survey are borne out, there should be hell to pay.

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