IAIN Macwhirter makes some salient points in his article on the future of exams and the SQA ("Somerville discovers something worse than grading by algorithm", June 13).

As a teacher of 15 years' experience across both the SQA and international systems I sympathise with pupils in terms of the stress that they feel with regards to exams. However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, standardised exams are the worst way of assessing pupils until you look at every other option.

Rather than a wholesale dismantling of this system, why not changes to reduce the burden? I've yet to see a good argument for why there should be time limits for exams (within reason, of course). Also, many systems have a re-sit diet in the autumn to allow pupils an opportunity of another shot at the exam without having to wait an entire year. There's also an argument for having more than one paper for a subject so that different skills can be tested separately.

I'd also like to touch on one other important point that is mentioned by Mr Macwhirter in the passing; the Curriculum for Excellence. Many of those in charge of education in Scotland and those who hold prestigious posts at universities seem to hope that everyone forgets that they rammed through this curriculum against the advice of professionals, particularly those who work in secondary. I began my career as it was being introduced and there was near-universal opposition to its vague format and hurried start from classroom teachers. Yet teachers who voiced concern were called dinosaurs and told that they simply didn't understand the modern world and were stuck in their ways.

A fitting start to a new age in Scottish education would be for them to be issued an apology by those that mocked and dismissed them many years ago. I won't hold my breath...

Patrick McHugh, Cologne, Germany.


I APPRECIATED Iain Macwhirter’s account of the “convoluted farrago” that is the Scottish Government’s and the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s latest plan to test and grade “learners”, thereby making the wretched lives of our young people ever more stressful.

Speaking as a doctor who has been examined, excruciatingly, to breaking point, I believe the problem with most examinations is that they are too difficult. Nowadays, if you want to enter medical school, not only must you pass lots of Highers or A-levels at A+ grade, you also need to pass the UK-CAT test, or equivalent – like solving cryptic crosswords under six minutes in order to work at Bletchley Park, then compose a faultlessly worded “personal statement”, then attend for interview and satisfy all the inbuilt prejudices of the interview panel that you are “doctor material”, then spend your summer hols in the Amazon rainforest discovering a cure for cancer. Meanwhile, back home, the patients can’t find a doctor for love nor money. Well, maybe for money.

What is the purpose of an exam? It is to demonstrate, to yourself, and your mentors, that you are ready to embark upon the next stage of learning, and, finally, particularly in the case of vocational training, that you have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to undertake the work for which you have been trained. I don’t believe that closed book examinations should be dumped just because students might have an off-day. After all, you will subsequently need to perform professionally despite having an off-day. And if you fail the test it’s no big deal; just resit at the next diet.

The best-designed test I ever sat was for my private pilot’s licence, in New Zealand. There were five papers. They were perfectly straightforward but you had to score 75% in all of them to pass; you had to know your stuff. Then of course you had to fly the aeroplane with the examiner beside you, off-day or not. The format was predictable. I knew I would be subjected to an engine failure. I also knew I wouldn’t suddenly be asked to perform low-level aerobatics.

Educationalists in all disciplines similarly need to set the bar for their subject which, if cleared, will satisfy the examiners. There is no need to encourage ruthless competition by introducing difficulties, bowling googlies and yorkers (to mix the metaphor) that will identify the high fliers. The high fliers will come to the top whatever the system throws at them.

And the politicians should stay out of it.

Dr Hamish Maclaren, Stirling.


IAIN Macwhirter dismisses competitive exams as the worst form of assessment and then rubbishes every other method.

It is wrong to yield to pushy parents and assertive pupils when it comes to assessment. Carefully monitored external examinations assessed by professionals who do not know the pupils whose papers they are marking is the fairest form of assessment. There should be no appeals, only re-sits for those failing the first time.

Covid has severely damaged a lot of things, including schooling and assessment, but throwing the baby out with the contaminated bath water does no good to the baby.

John Kelly, Edinburgh.


I NOTE Tony Philpin's zeal in making his case for human-induced climate change (Letters, June 6), but I fear he only reveals more of his misconceptions and contradictions on the subject. He depicts climate deniers (realists, in my view) as hearing what they want to hear while disregarding the rest, but to paraphrase Jonathan Swift in his satire Polite Conversations, it could also be said of activists that "there are none so blind as those who will not see."

We are told that things have moved on since Al Gore's unscientific and exaggerated Inconvenient Truth in 2006. They should, but they have not. His sequel of a similar title in 2017 perpetuates his penchant for more flimsy science and dangerous hyperbole. He basked unashamedly in the glory of a Nobel Peace Prize award even though the British High Court ruled that numerous scientific errors had been made "in the context of alarmism and exaggeration".

Mr Philpin concedes that science rarely has 100 per cent certitude and yet super-computer climate models miraculously predict climatic conditions decades from now with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stating that "the science is settled" while simultaneously contradicting itself by hedging its bets with a wide range of different possible scenarios. He also accuses those with whom he disagrees of having a "100% filter" when in reality they have taken considerable time and trouble to examine both sides of the argument without resorting to pseudo science and distortion of fact.

While the activities of billions of humans may have had a minor effect on the overall climate, their inexorable encroachment and interference with natural ecosystems with associated deforestation and overgrazing result not only in localised climate changes but also in so-called natural disasters such as landslides, flooding, subsidence and so on, events that are invariably blamed primarily on human emissions.

Neil J Bryce, Kelso.

* 125,000 years ago hippos swam in the River Thames, and lions and elephants were living nearby. A couple of hundred years ago the same Thames froze over during several winters, with ice thick enough to hold fairs. Yet Tony Philpin expects us to believe at the present moment, when temperatures are comfortably between these two extremes, that we're in a climate crisis.

Geoff Moore, Alness.


REGARDING Neil Mackay's question ("Could new mobile phone link solve mystery of the Chinook tragedy?", June 6), the answer is no.

I gave the most likely explanation for the accident in my book Chinook Crash (Pen & Sword, 2004), apparently ignored by David Hill and John Blakely.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was right the first time: that the pilots were responsible. The reason given at the time was breaking safety rules, which was true but not the fundamental error responsible. The pilots made a navigation error and flew the aircraft into the ground because they lost their way. Of course if they had observed the safety rules, they would not have crashed.

The MoD later backed off, having decided not to blame anyone in the case of aircraft accidents. So they ended up with no reasonable explanation, ignoring mine.

Steuart Campbell, science writer, Edinburgh.


I DID not realise how much I had missed going into town and taking in a film until I ventured forth recently. Both were tentative but pleasurable experiences, though not as normal as I had hoped.

However, they both inspired me to believe that normality may no longer be a pipe dream, even though variants could have been lurking around every corner.

Just being able to wander through Waterstones browsing the books sent a surge of pleasure through my frame, though having every now and then to pull up my mask to keep my nose covered brought me back to earth, reminding me that the reality might just mean a temporary respite from a further lockdown.

My cinematic experience was comparable with days of yore, once the cinema was plunged into darkness for the main feature. However, before the lights dimmed, scarcity of customers and enforced social distancing forced a frisson of concern about the presence of Covid in our daily lives.

While Dream Horse might not be everybody's cup of tea, I have to admit I am a sucker for a schmaltzy feelgood film with moments which bring tears to the eye and a lump in the throat when the whole story ends after a serious setback triumphantly with a whole host of good British actors bringing the story alive and leaving the audience with a wonderful and certainly not woke rendition of the Tom Jones' hit Delilah as the credits began to roll.

Let us hope the curtains will soon be coming up throughout the land instead of coming down again to shut us all up in our homes , care or otherwise.

Denis Bruce, Bishopbriggs.