Exams plus class work equals reliable grades - Readers' Letters

I was greatly encouraged to read your summary of the recommendations of the Commission on School Reform in Scotland (Scotsman, 9 August) on how to solve the problems that Covid has highlighted in the present system of school national qualifications.

Are exams the best way to assess pupils' abilities?
Are exams the best way to assess pupils' abilities?

It is true that a final examination is an excellent way of ensuring consistent standards across the whole country, but a system based solely on exams disadvantages those who perform well throughout the year but don’t perform well on the fateful day either because they are not good at sitting exams (like excellent workers who don’t interview well) or who, for one reason or another (for example, sickness or family circumstances) do not do themselves justice In the one-off exams.

I believe that switching from relying solely on exams to depending only on continuous assessment, as some recommend, would create all sorts of new problems, as has been evidenced last year and this.

As the report says, Scotland needs to get in step with rest of the world by adopting a hybrid model that uses both course work and exams, thus getting the best of both systems.

Henry L Philip, Edinburgh

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Good results

If this year’s exam results (Scotsman, 10 August) show a long overdue return to quality (good top grades) rather than quantity (more lower grades) then Scotland can heave a sigh of relief that finally those in charge have read the writing on the wall: Scotland needs talent!

Anonymously marked and monitored examinations remain the best way to grade the sorts of ability we need. I for one do not wish my teeth to be extracted, my appendix removed or my transport driven/flown by those who have failed relevant tests or not otherwise proved more possession of a more than adequate competence.

It is quite bad enough to be governed by those who have failed almost every measure of appropriate competence in the political field whether at Scottish or British levels.

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Tim Flinn, Garvald, East Lothian

Attainment gap

The recent Scottish exam results reveal the further destruction of a once world-leading education system, all on the watch of this discredited SNP government. It is nothing short of a national disgrace but more importantly, it is a tragedy for our young people looking to make their way in the world.

There are regretfully too many damning statistics from the results to highlight but bearing in mind the First Minister said it was her “mission” to narrow the attainment gap and she should be “judged on her record”, then one must start here. The fact not in doubt is that attainment of Grade A in Higher Exams was 22 per cent higher in the least deprived areas of Scotland compared to the most deprived. This attainment gap is now the largest for five years.

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Additionally we also have the question of "grade inflation”. The percentage of students who achieved an A grade in Higher exams was 47.6 per cent compared to 28.3 per cent in 2019. Are we seriously meant to believe that this difference of near 20 per cent in two years is simply down to the quality of the candidate and the better learning programme they have experienced?

The time has now come for even a diehard nationalist supporter to examine his or her conscience and consider the SNP’s record on education, which is nothing short of catastrophic and has severely and tragically impacted on the life chances of far too many young people.

Richard Allison, Edinburgh

Crying foul

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It encapsulates what Scotland's media outside of The Scotsman has become when the leading story in most of its outlets yesterday morning was not the latest twist in the Covid exams grades farrago affecting future generations for decades, but another pile of mindless drivel about Rangers.

Mark Boyle, Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Name game

I agree wholeheartedly with all the points Eric Melvin has made regarding the name of the new Morningside primary school in Edinurgh (Letters, 10 August).

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Saroj Lal was evidently a dynamic force for education and race relations but so have been other excellent teachers. Her son has spent a lot of time and money promoting “his” cause. When he involved the MP and MSP, it politicised the school, and that cannot be right.

Schools serve their locality and that is how they should be named.

Berenice Muir, Edinburgh

On the fly

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I read with interest Murdo Fraser’s article on fly tipping (Scotsman, 11 August).

Whilst acknowledging that updating the law would only be part of the solution, surely Mr Fraser misses the point in that the fundamental issue in fly tipping is detection.

In its nature this is an activity by and large carried out clandestinely, often under cover of darkness.

It strikes me, therefore, that inroads will only be made into this horrendous practice if enforcement agencies are properly funded and resourced. Until then, enhanced penalties would seem to be irrelevant.

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David Edgar, Symington, South Ayrshire

VAT on sunscreen

Melanoma Action and Support Scotland, Scotland’s only skin cancer-specific charity, fully believes that the removal of VAT on sunscreen would make a big difference when it comes to prevention.

Recently at Westminster, Patricia Gibson MP, the member for North Ayrshire and Arran, tabled a petition to that end. Since forming in 2003, we have lobbied for the removal of VAT on sunscreen. In Scotland, melanoma is the fifth most prominent cancer affecting all age groups – and the most prominent amongst those aged 15-34. Each year, around 13,000 Scots develop skin cancer – with around one in ten getting the most serious, melanoma.

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Recently, Tesco reduced the cost of its own brand sunscreen products by 20 per cent to absorb the cost of VAT. That followed the publication of their own research showing 57 per cent of UK adults said they think sun protection is expensive, with 29 per cent stating they would wear sun protection daily if it was more affordable.

With nine in ten melanoma cases being preventable, any step to make it easier, and more affordable, to access sunscreen would make a significant difference and are to be welcomed.

Leigh Smith MBE, Chair of Melanoma Action and Support Scotland, Glasgow

Wind turbines

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Aileen Jackson asks an excellent question about windfarm development and damage to peat (Letters, 10 August).

I had a quick look at the numbers for Whitelee Windfarm which sits partially in East Renfrewshire and has 2500 kilowatt turbines. Emissions from fossil fuels are around 0.25 kg of CO2 per kWh, so one turbine at full output will save 625 kg of CO2 emissions per hour. Assuming 2000 cubic metres of peat are dug up per turbine (it will likely be a lot less), that’s approximately 400 tonnes of peat (you’d think it would be more for that volume, but peat is remarkably light and fluffy).

Digging up this amount of peat would release 740 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (peat is around 50 per cent carbon, and one tonne of carbon means 3.7 tonnes of CO2). This means that in around 1200 hours (50 days) at maximum output, a wind turbine at Whitelee will compensate for its site preparation emissions.

It’s important to look into these questions, but in this case the numbers are pretty clear; in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, the turbines are worth it. As for people ‘lining their pockets’, I couldn’t agree more – 1.2 million people are now employed in the UK’s low carbon economy, so there are great opportunities for wealth creation and jobs in this important national industry.

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A final point: in a recent Nature paper, it was shown that 4,400 tonnes of CO2 emissions will cost one life on average in terms of climate change impacts. So every ten months, at full output, a turbine at Whitelee saves a life through reduced greenhouse gas emissions. There are 215 turbines at Whitelee, so that’s almost one life saved per day. Obviously, the turbines are not always running at full capacity – but the impact is clear.

Dr Matt Aitkenhead, Soil Scientist, The James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen

Cry freedom

I wonder where Mel Gibson's William Wallace would have stood in the present day in SNP-controlled Scotland?

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His ancient foe, the English have declared an end to the Covid restrictions. Even so, some people still wear face masks voluntarily and I expect that there will be some people who will do so for the rest of their lives.

What evidence is there that face masks actually help to keep people safe? Not a lot, is the answer. Although it may prevent sneezes from spraying Covid-infected moisture around, the actual virus is so small that the fabric of most masks has no effect in stopping their dissemination, which makes them pointless.

But, it is no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon’s government want to keep Scots under the thumb and force us to keep on wearing them.

So, when Mel Gibson shouts "Freedom!" we know that, in 2021 he would be crying out for the freedom that the English enjoy.

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Peter Hopkins, Edinburgh

Population plea

I was very interested to read the letter on overpopulation by Les Reid (4 August), with which I totally agree. Indeed, I have been keenly interested in the subject since I read the draft of the “Rapid Growth of Human Populations 1750-2000” by my late friend Dr William Stanton, published in 2003. It is an evidence-based, thought-provoking, not to say alarming, analysis of the issue.

I am saddened, but not surprised, that it elicited no comment from your readers. Everyone is obsessed with COP26 and climate change, but climate change is merely one of several effects of overpopulation. But overpopulation itself is a taboo subject, as William Stanton pointed out, definitely not PC.

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Peter Gosling, Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross

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