Readers' Letters: Government ties prevent SQA reform

Yesterday Shirley-Anne Somerville announced a forthcoming review of the SQA. Only 90 minutes earlier Nicola Sturgeon had professed "full confidence" in the SQA! Surely the SNP's cult of secrecy has gone too far when the Education Secretary and the First Minister don't reveal their hands even to each other.

Shirley-Anne Somerville said Scots pupils could appeal to the SQA for better exam grades for free (Picture: Fraser Bremner/Getty)

SQA is not some alien monster inflicted on the education system, controlling exams and, of its own volition, making teachers’ and pupils’ lives a misery. No, SQA is a quango set up by and controlled by the Government. It is Government that sets the policy for SQA to exercise its technical expertise to carry out this policy effectively and efficiently. So, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is a government-determined programme and this includes not only the outcomes but also the assessment regime. SQA’s job is to provide the technical expertise to ensure that the assessments achieve the aims determined by the Government.

When, last year, it was determined that the exam results would be largely in line with those of previous years', that was a government decision – stand up John Swinney. SQA’s role was to determine how this objective could be achieved.

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The fact that many individual pupils were at risk of being short-changed by the algorithm devised to implement the policy was irrelevant because individual achievement was not part of that policy – a big mistake, as it turned out. Now, this year it is the Government that has determined that appeals can lead to a lower grade as well as a higher grade.

This policy has the Government’s fingers all over it as it mirrors the situation in the justice system where an appeal can lead to a sentence being increased as well as decreased.

I write this with my own level of expertise because, not only did I serve on one of the many committees involved in the development of CfE, I also served two terms as a member of the SQA Board and I was able to see for myself how the system works. Calls for reform of SQA will only be successful if it is made properly independent of Government and this will not happen. Moreover, the track record of the private exam boards in England is not much cause of optimism.

Judith Gillespie, Edinburgh

Time for talking

This week Shirley-Anne Somerville announced a forthcoming review of the SQA. Only 90 minutes earlier Nicola Sturgeon had professed “full confidence” in the SQA! Surely the SNP's cult of secrecy has gone too far when the Education Secretary and the First Minister don't reveal their hands even to each other.

Ms Sturgeon went on to say that circumstances such as family bereavement would in fact be taken into account in the appeals process, contradicting what was stated previously by the SQA! You couldn't make this up – which, as they go along, is what the SNP are doing with one of their “priority” issues. The fiasco of the non-exam exam is to be followed by a “mebbes aye, mebbes naw” appeals process. Serious leadership? Aye right!

Colin Hamilton, Edinburgh

Anas awakens

What a blistering performance from Anas Sarwar at FMQs on Thursday. He has emerged at last from his semi-nationalist/Green shell. On the front foot from the word go, he listed a series of key recent events, one after the other, where, despite Nicola Sturgeon’s belligerency and denial, she followed the lead of the UK exactly in the war on Covid. Ms Sturgeon’s administration was in ‘’lockstep’’ with that of the UK, he asserted, quoting instances chapter and verse. The FM was visibly shaken.

It seems to have taken Mr Sarwar some time to realise that the SNP is in charge of the administration running Scotland, not some mythical and intrinsically evil Tory organisation down south all out to put Scotland down, as he seemed to believe. This was not the hesitant, forelock-tugging, semi-nationalist we have seen up to now. He was doing his own thing and seemed to enjoy doing it. More, please.

Alexander McKay, Edinburgh

Kids today

I read with some amusement, and not a little incredulity, Steve Hayes’ observations on the attitudes and behaviours of the children of today (Letters, 3 June). My childhood spanned the Forties and Fifties at a time when sadistic schoolteachers could, with impunity, knock hell out of any child who looked at them the wrong way. Sex education was non-existent and girls were being maimed or dying from back street abortions. Real poverty and deprivation were rife, homosexuals were reviled, jailed and driven to suicide. Meanwhile, “churchy” folk, politicians and some parents preached a moral code which was more honoured by themselves in the breach rather than the observance. I remember, when about 12 years old and with a group of friends, being berated by a man and woman for playing football on a Sunday, and thinking what a cock-eyed world this – how could this so offend two adults who looked comparatively sane and normal?

To cut to the chase, I simply do not recognise Mr Hayes’ characterisations of today’s children. I have eight grandchildren and each has a mature, tolerant and caring attitude and an appreciation of the differences in society. Their attitudes to sex and relationships are much healthier than those of previous generations and there is an openness and honesty in their dealings with their peers and elders.

I commend to Mr Hayes the following quote on Modern Youth: “The world is going through troubled times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of restraint. They talk as if they alone knew everything, and what passes for us as wisdom is foolishness to them. As for the girls, they are immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress." – Socrates, c400BC

Graham Hammond, East Calder, West Lothian

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Power mad?

Re: the Portugal travel farce (“We are just devastated” – Scots holidaymakers react to news of Portugal being moved to amber list”, Scotsman Online, 4 June), all but the wilfully blind should now be able to see that our governments are drunk on power, egged on by vested interests, and are taking for granted the ongoing passivity of the Great Unwashed.

Nothing short of mass civil disobedience, including strikes, will bring our would-be dictators to their senses. But would the unions step up to the plate? Sadly, I doubt it.

George Morton, Rosyth, Fife

Far too green

After joining the newly formed Irish Green Party, it soon became obvious (even to an idealistic 16-year-old) that this organisation – and indeed the entire green movement – was hopelessly out of touch with reality and I quit the following year. But the prospect of Scottish lentil-munchers combining with fake patriots in a formal pact could actually be a blessing in disguise for people in Scotland not convinced by grievance politics or hocus-pocus economics. Greens share the SNP fixation for criminalising that which is legal and legalising that which is banned. When in coalition with Fianna Fáil a few years ago, the Irish Greens' principal legacy to the country was the prohibition of bonfires and the costly deployment of carbon-belching helicopters to detect illicit blazes and levy fines on the irresponsible culprits.

Expect the wise-smiling but clueless Patrick Harvie and his “co-convenor” to get a torrent of anti-libertarian, anti-growth bills passed with the help of their saltire-draped allies. It's a fairly safe bet that one of the first of these would be the ending of shooting, hunting and angling, along with the thousands of jobs reliant on such pursuits. So-called land reform, higher taxes on “ungreen” industries, along with yet more wind farms blighting the landscape would surely be other items on the eco-warriors' agenda, with laws to further hobble Scotland's hard-pressed business, tourism and agriculture. Maybe this marriage of convenience and the resulting chaos will make lukewarm greens and less-radicalised SNP voters think again.

Martin O’Gorman, Edinburgh

Pensions picture

It is a pity that Mary Thomas resorts to branding the 2014 claim that UK pensions could be under threat from independence as a “lie” (Letters 4 June). Such a seismic change in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK would undoubtedly introduce such a risk which does not exist while we remain part of the UK, especially if a different currency comes into play. Ms Thomas cannot possibly say for certain that a reduction in the state pension would not happen; that is not in her gift, nor of any of the secession-seekers.

While I have no reason to doubt her claim that “Norway, Denmark, Finland and Ireland can afford to pay better pensions”, she is not considering the full picture; for example, the fact that there is a fee for visiting one's GP in these countries, which under the NHS UK citizens do not pay – and isn't taxation, not only of “the rich”, also much higher? It is unwise to pluck one isolated factor out of the air when making comparisons with other countries rather than presenting the full picture. It is also unhelpful to label unsubstantiated claims with which one disagrees as lies.

Goodness, even MPs know better than that!

Jane Ann Liston, St Andrews, Fife

Bashing Boris

Re: John McLellan’s article “Covid buck stops with Sturgeon” (Perspective, 29 May), in typical “Bash Boris” mode, Nicola Sturgeon jumped to support Dominic Cummings’ criticisms, boasting by implication that “it’s often the failure to take quick and firm decisions that leads to loss of life”. But she then immediately emphasises “the importance of careful, cautious, responsible decision-making in the face of a deadly virus”.

A clear case of her having it both ways while not conceding the same right to the Prime Minister?

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

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