WHEN Shirley-Anne Somerville says she will take full responsibility for the appeals process for this year’s diet of “exams”, she’s doing nothing noble or exceptional: she is merely explaining where responsibility lies – with her.

The 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, the SQA is a quango set up by and controlled by the Government. It is the Government that sets the policy and it is for the SQA to exercise its technical expertise to carry out this policy effectively and efficiently. So, Curriculum for Excellence 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. The SQA’s role was to determine how this objective could be achieved. 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 Curriculum for Excellence, I also served two terms as a member of the SQA board and I was able to see for myself how the system works. Reform of SQA will only be successful if it is made properly independent of the Government and this will not happen ("Storm as Sturgeon confuses parents over SQA", The Herald, June 4). Moreover, the track record of the private exam boards in England is not much cause of optimism.

Judith Gillespie, Edinburgh.


FOLLOWING Boris Johnson's announcement of allocating £1.4 billion to schoolchildren south of the Border to enable them to catch up with their lessons over the summer, it's surprising that with the importance Nicola Sturgeon places on education, Scotland is not following suit.

Instead it seems that Scotland's £20 million will be spent on improving the mental health of children, which has deteriorated during the pandemic and is an aspect which obviously needs attention, plus social activities resulting in more interaction within communities. It seems that the academic side of schooling which is crucial to finding jobs later in life is being sacrificed for vague activities which will hardly improve the ability of children to eventually compete in a challenging work environment. John Swinney may no longer be Education Secretary, but it seems that his legacy of stagnation and failing pupils will continue.

Bob MacDougall, Kippen.


EDUCATION in Scotland is hardly off the front pages these days for all the wrong reasons. It is very apparent that this educational disaster goes right to the very top.

Accountancy needs a command of mathematics. The most recently-published SNP accounts for 2019 show that the party had £96,000 in the bank and total net assets of £272,000. The SNP's income in 2019 was £5.3 million but outgoings were £5.6m. There is no sign here of the missing £600,000 "ring-fenced for independence" money. Basic maths also shows there is nowhere for it to have gone apart from being spent. If this money is still available surely the SNP would be very anxious to produce the evidence and quash the rumours?

Dr Gerald Edwards, Glasgow.


WE write in response to the Big Read article last week ("Do the facts back up claims that Scotland is sectarian with an anti-Catholic bias?", The Herald, May 29). The authors, Professor Sir Tom Devine and Dr Michael Rosie, reflect on the "riot" (their quotes) by Rangers fans in George Square and argue that the notion of a "wider and insidious anti-Catholicism in Scottish society" is both "unhelpful" and "alarming". We wish that were true, but unfortunately this is a based on a error in the authors’ interpretation of conditional probability. As is rightly pointed out, 42 per cent of reported hate crime in Scotland is anti-Catholic. However, as Catholics only make up 15.9% of the population, it is clear prima facie that Catholics (as a group and either directly or indirectly) are 2.6 times more likely to be the target of hate crime than a hypothetical average Scot.

They go on to say that Catholics are not more likely to live in poorer areas because of systemic, historic bigotry – they just live there because… well, they just choose to. This argument is akin to the one that says that the gender pay gap does not arise from sex discrimination in the labour market or society, it is just that women choose to work in occupations where the pay is lower. The evidence in relation to the health problems and excess imprisonment of the Catholic population, is in Messrs Devine and Rosie’s words, simply then an "area" effect. It is astonishing that anyone, far less academics, would construct such a tenuous (almost victim-blaming) argument and it fails to address why there would not have been, in the absence of systemic discrimination and over the past 175 years, a natural movement of Catholics across Scotland to areas where such negative outcomes are less prevalent.

Statistics on religious-aggravated hate crime are collected and interpreted in exactly the same way as statistics on any other kind of hate crime. The focus is on the basis of the hate not, in all cases, the characteristics of the victim or indeed the perpetrator. The fact that police officers are often involved when a crime is taking place or has just taken place and are abused during the arrest process should not be a surprise to anyone and applies to all hate crimes. Moreover, the population of those who engage in anti-Catholic hate crime is not, we would argue, the entire Protestant population of Scotland but a smaller subset who congregate around anti-Catholic marches and other right-wing events. Acknowledging this casts further doubt on the interpretation of the statistics which the authors propose.

One wonders why two academics would feel the need to take to the pages of the Scottish press to put forward such a staunch and steadfast denial of the recorded experience of a community to which they either do not belong or are not embedded in. To then smear those who disagree by suggesting they are engaging in "deliberately exaggerated rhetoric" is, frankly, disgraceful. To emphasis our point further, we invite your readers to replace the words Catholic and Protestant with the words white people and people of colour – we think they will find the perverse logic of the authors' argument starkly illuminated in that context.

Jeanette Findlay, Glasgow – Chair, Call it Out.


SCOTTISH Golf has introduced a new scheme to give non-members of golf clubs official handicaps. This scheme has serious implications for local golf clubs and destroys one of the main selling points of golf club membership.

Why should people pay £5.99 a month for this privilege? Well, it gives non-members the opportunity to play in official competitions, apparently.

But what are most of these competitions? Since time immemorial golf clubs have run open competitions. Many take up prime times at weekends, much to the chagrin of members who lose their normal weekend game.

So why do clubs do this? Well it’s really a nationwide reciprocal scheme. You get a chance to play my course at a prime time at a discounted price, and I get a chance to play your course under the same terms. Non-members obviously don’t have that reciprocation to offer, so clubs are not going to allow non-members to take prime times at discounted prices. So as well as jeopardising the future of many local golf clubs, the main selling point for the Scottish Golf offer is built on a false promise.

Alan Dougan, Milngavie.


JAMES Duncan (Letters, June 2) writes of the beautiful pheasant shown in your Picture of the Day on May 31, that it is "a shame that someone will probably try to shoot it for sport". I had written on May 22 about my lovely pheasant friend in the wood where I walk every day. Slowly he had come closer and walked alongside me and we made the same funny noises. It was a conversation in a way. He would come ever closer over time and bow his head and we would gaze at each other, and I was honoured. I have never known a pheasant like him. But this past week there has been no sign of him, nor of any of the other few pheasants that were about. All gone – absolutely gone.

The lesson learned is not to give my heart away so easily to another species. I cut out the photo of the gorgeous pheasant and will keep it with the poem by Thomas Hardy I copied into a commonplace book a few years ago. The poem was one of two chosen by Lesley Duncan and is called The Puzzled Game Birds. It says: "They were not those who used to feed us when we were young – They cannot be/ These shapes that bereave and bleed us....".

Sadly they are, and do.

Thelma Edwards, Kelso.


ROSEMARY Goring says that volunteers involved in picking up litter are given free plastic bags to put the litter in ("There is a way to stop the menace of the fly-tippers", The Herald, June 2). How many times are people to be told of the dangers of plastic bags before it sinks in?

Picking up litter and then putting it into plastic bags is just compounding the problem of plastic. Plastic never biodegrades, it lasts until the end of time. So, by all means pick up litter, but collect it in a bag which is reusable, and not made of plastic.

Margaret Forbes, Kilmacolm.

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