The Scottish Government could have reacted more effectively to the challenges of school assessments - Scotsman comment

Spring time is exam time, and so always a season of tension for the young people going through those life-defining tests.

Pupils at Rosshall Academy, Glasgow, Scotland. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

This year, with unique arrangements in place because of the Covid crisis, it would be understandable if the angst was even more acute. Students are not sitting exams, the Scottish Government insists. But the students themselves may beg to disagree.

The intense diet of "assessments" across their chosen subjects, completed in school halls under strict conditions, give the appearance of being just as stressful, and formal, as proper exams. Worse, they're being completed during the normal diet of classes and other school activity because, after all, who needs exam leave when they're not sitting exams?

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So our hearts go out to all those enduring these difficult weeks with none of the reassurance of knowing that a time-served, moderated process - endured by generations of pupils before them - keeps things fair.

The Covid crisis brought us to this point, but crises tend to expose pre-existing weaknesses. The Scottish Government, and educational institutions, could have reacted more effectively to the challenges they faced.

Data in The Scotsman today offers further evidence of the iniquity of last year's exam fiasco, where students in poorer areas were initially disproportionately marked down by the SQA, when compared to their counterparts from more affluent areas.

Those downgrades were reversed, of course, after an outcry. But that shocking episode should have led to greater introspection, even humility, than the First Minister displayed this week when - asked about concerns about this year's exams - she offered that "as I’m finding out anew after the election, I and the government are accountable for all of these things."

Well, yes.

Ms Sturgeon did go on to note that "Young people have suffered more than any group in our society" through Covid. And on that point, Ms Sturgeon was absolutely correct.

But they would also be better served by a thoughtful dissection of the unfairness of the arrangements last year, an acceptance that they are enduring makeshift exams by another name this year, and a promise that those responsible are learning for the future too.

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