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something I wrote earlier

Exam officials are worried that too many pupils sitting Higher English are working from the same crib sheet.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority says schools encourage individual examinees to produce answers which are remarkably similar and more than redolent of the Blue Peter here's-one-I wrote-earlier school of penmanship.

Weans doing Standard grades (that's O levels in new money) are even given template essays to work from. The technical term for this is "scaffolding". Little wonder there is a "disappointing sameness" in the exam offerings. Parents protest about stunted creativity. When I was a lad with ink-stained fingers, there is no way I would have allowed a teacher to tell me what to write. An essay – or composition as we called it –was a joy and a delight. I would have written one every day if the school asked me.

Being asked to relate what you did on your holidays was a chance to be imaginative about exotic destinations even if the reality was huddled on the beach at Saltcoats with sand in your sandwiches. Or you could have the school burning with easily recognisable members of staff sadly perishing in the conflagration. There was the opportunity to examine the logicality of pupils being banned from wearing denims to school or sporting a Beatles haircut.

You could simply precis the latest book you were reading. Marks might be deducted for deviation from the prescribed topic but added back on, I suspect, for bookish enthusiasm.

I would attempt humorous asides in my history homework. Bob Cramspey, a teacher par excellence, would reprimand with comments such as "leave the jokes to PG Wodehouse and JD Salinger". I took this as encouragement.

I did use scaffolding in French exams where you had to write a wee essay. To be exact, I trotted out the same bit of prose about une ruisseau étincelante. This sparkling brook was adorned with chirping oiseaux, fluttering papillons, and billowy nuages .Even if the required subject had an urban setting I would say how my mind often wandered to my favourite sparkling brook. For many years, but usually after a glass or three of sparkling wine, I could impress French folk with my passion for unspoiled countryside.

My advice to teachers, for what it's worth, is don't give pupils scaffolding. Show them how to build their own.

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Education

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