THIS year’s SQA debacle clearly demonstrates that the end of schooling examination and certification process in Scotland is divisive and dysfunctional. Without question, it is not fit for purpose. It compounds then consolidates, in formal qualifications, the disadvantage of those already most disadvantaged. There is an urgent need for the most radical root and branch reform. But, since this cannot be done without challenging the interests of those who benefit from the current system, radical change will not be easy.

Reactions to the debacle demonstrate the gulf between those who design and administer the system and those who "experience" it. Parents, students and teachers highlight the failure of the system to recognise the hard work of learners, their application and commitment to task, together with their personal and academic problem-solving abilities – all skills and qualities that modern employers tell us they value most. On the other hand, politicians and examination body spokespersons emphasise their statistical processes and historical comparisons.

A quarter of candidates this year have been told: Sorry, but you are not as good as you (and your teachers) think you are. We the "system" know better – because we have a model we’ve used before. These are the same young people – and their parents – that, if Scotland is to compete successfully in the 21st century world, we need to convince of the value of a lifelong commitment to education and training. How exactly does this contribute to reducing the attainment gap and promoting a "can do" culture?

This debacle was not an accident, the consequence of an aberrant computer glitch or systems/personnel malfunctions. The process of assessment and grading worked this year exactly as intended and designed by the examination body and politicians. Every year candidate results are manipulated, by the same process, to fit the demands of the normal curve of distribution – a statistical process increasingly regarded as spurious, as a mechanism for producing valid assessments of anything but the simplest of human capabilities.

For those prepared to look critically at the evidence there is an irrefutable case for the abolition of current models of assessment and certification in Scotland.

Students were demonstrating in Saturday in George Square and Dalkeith to protest about their treatment. They have been failed by the system. They deserve our strongest possible support.

Jim Rand, Blanefield.

WHATEVER the rights and wrongs of the recent SQA marking furore and the consequences that may fall from it, I think that a degree of naivety and/or benign ignorance may be present in the approach and beliefs of some of those seemingly disadvantaged by apparently poorer exam results than expected.

Put simply, and using mathematics as an example of a subject discipline whose "answers" in a test must surely be as objectively "correct" as is possible, it is not the case that a person's test score of, say, 65 per cent on the day will be the mark/grade that ends up as that person's final mark/grade. For a variety of reasons, that "raw" score is then subject to an equal variety of "adjustments" based on all sorts of indicators.

The Bell Curve, for example, the rationale of which argues that human intelligence is substantially influenced by both inherited and environmental factors and that, ipso facto, is therefore a better predictor of many outcomes, is a common type of distribution for a variable on which the highest point represents the most probable event in a series of data while all other possible occurrences are systematically distributed around the mean. This has the consequence of forcing groups of people to be categorised as poor, average, good. Also, for smaller groups, having to categorise a set number of individuals in each category to "fit" a Bell curve will do a disservice to those individuals.

Of course, none of the above in any way, diminishes the sense of anger and frustration felt by those most affected. There are many people, too, who hold that such social engineering, for whatever reason, is simply not on. However, the point is that these types of assessments/ re-adjustments, and many more, are taken into account when final grades are being awarded.

Consequently, those who believe, like the head of Clifton Hall school in Edinburgh, that the professional standards of teaching staff are being called into question are aiming at the wrong target. It's not the teacher marking that's in any way imperfect; rather it's the myriad statistical contortions gone through by those who have rarely seen the inside of a classroom or struggled face-to-face with the learning difficulties of many of our youngsters that are the issue.

Finally, as an anecdotal pointer to the invariable cries of marking inconsistencies that arise every year, as a teacher and SQA marker of many years, many's the time when I and other colleagues have smiled wryly at the idea of appealing for some students' grades to be downgraded, such is our surprise when they "over-achieve". But we don't. Nor have I ever come across a student who, having done better than expected, has appealed their grade.

But then, as Mark Twain reportedly said: "I've never let my schooling get in the way of my education."

Gerard McCulloch, Saltcoats.