The waiting is over.
Today is the day 158,908 candidates throughout Scotland rip open the envelopes containing their exam results. There will be tears and disappointment for some, relief and satisfaction for many and delight, even ecstasy, for others. For most, celebrations are in order. Once again the pass rate has risen in most categories.
Congratulations are due to both pupils and teachers for all the hard work that has gone into another year of high achievement. Inevitably, the results are clouded by insinuations of "dumbing down" and "grade inflation". Teachers who have worked hard to raise aspirations and attainment, despite wage freezes and challenges to their terms and conditions, must feel they are in a no-win situation. If the pass rate dips, the finger is pointed at them. If it rises, there is an assumption that the exams are getting easier. That is unfair on both pupils and their teachers.
There are several reasons why results tend to improve year on year. High youth unemployment and a higher bar for access to higher education concentrate young minds on the need to get the best possible results. Also, today's pupils have much better access to educational resources than previous generations, thanks to the internet and a plethora of study guides. In addition, it is probably the case that teachers are becoming more skilled at coaching their charges to get good grades.
Whether these snapshots of attainment on a particular day provide an accurate reflection of a pupil's suitability as an employee or undergraduate is another matter.
For most schools next year marks the end of Standard Grades, due to be replaced by National exams. As the pass rate for Standard Grade has now reached 98.9%, they are frankly no longer regarded as a useful indication of ability. Indeed, these exams have become hard to fail. Some uncertainty surrounds the new qualification, particularly the internal marking arrangements. However, change is overdue and the new qualifications, introduced alongside the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), are intended to challenge pupils and provide a more useful measure of their abilities. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
Highers will survive the shake-up and another jump of 1.7% in the pass rate to nearly 77% prompted questions yesterday about their relevance to the wider world of employment and higher education.
Strathclyde University emeritus professor of education, Brian Boyd, called on the Scottish Government to review Highers. He questions whether working towards such exams produces rounded individuals capable of making a positive contribution to society, which is the objective of CfE.
After such a major overhaul of Scottish education, designed to give pupils a wider education, more relevant to the outside world, it is important to have an examination system that reflects this. It is indeed time to ask whether Highers are fit for purpose.
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