AS Scottish secondary pupils receive their SQA results this week your front-page article says it all (“Somerville: No guarantee on hitting attainment-gap target”, August 9).

I find the issue of a supposed “gap” is largely a construct of the system perpetuated by Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland’s Education Secretary.

I expect that many young people, especially from under-privileged families living in our post- industrial towns, start school as if passing through a portal into what they see as so alien that it seems like a form of augmented reality.

It has always been the case that not all children get a desired chess-set for their birthday, or watch their parents play bridge of a cosy evening.

Additionally, Scotland has hugely diverse environments in which children are nurtured and so any centralised process has to be questioned.

Why, for example, should young people in North Uist have to learn and be examined the same as in Selkirk? The result may be of convenience for some end-users – but is it always appropriate and fair on the child?

To demand that all Scottish pupils sit the same exams within the same time-frame, in the name of maintaining national standards and educational uniformity, must be judged as essentially discriminatory as children learn at different rates.

I suggest that nationalised examination diets reveal last-century thinking. If our universities are trusted to employ appropriate standards, what is the key issue which disallows trust in teachers to employ exams from a large national bank, moderated, say, by the local authority?

The answer rests, of course, on whose name as the awarding body appears on any certification, but surely this can be addressed?

I suggest an open approach is developed for the 21st century so that young people can gain qualifications much more flexibly than the present, intensive, top-down prescription.

Senior pupils could be allowed to choose when to sit a test. They could be allowed a choice of format and even the weighting of questions.

However, I also expect this will be unlikely as one of the scariest things in education is people in suits who are self-appointed apostles of the status quo.

Bill Brown, Milngavie.


HERE we go again – the annual grump-fest and political point-scoring about the SQA results.

It is well-established that external home factors, such as poverty and deprivation, generally outweigh internal school factors, such as quality of teaching or additional funding, in determining attainment in examinations.

And the bad news is that the current cost-of-living crisis is going to make closing that ‘gap’ even more unattainable next year.

Why do we not just congratulate the majority of kids and teachers on their successes, and cut out the ill-informed moaning?

Professor K.B. Scott, Stirling.


THE pitiful letter (August 9) from Ruth Marr, your almost weekly Stirling correspondent, regarding strong criticism of her political beliefs would bring a tear to a glass eye.

Never the one to fail to point out the alleged failings of anything English or connected with Westminster, she informs us she no longer wishes to read any critical articles which she interprets as “horrible to read”.

The slogan, “If you cannot stand the heat get out the kitchen” was attributed to President Harry S. Truman. It applies equally to those in Stirlingshire or Washington D.C.

I recall the shrill demands from Isobel Lindsay in her prime. At least she had the courage to stand for public office and take any flack.

Some two years ago she had the courage to publicly chastised her ex-colleagues over what she perceived to be some bad decisions. That, to my mind, is the essence of a proper politician.

Two years ago Rupert Lowe, former Brexit MEP, said he would welcome a period of silence from both Philip Hammond and Theresa May.

Perhaps it is too much to ask this of Ms Marr in view of the fact that she is not prepared to even consider giving value to other political points of view.

Robin Johnston, Newton Mearns.


I READ Ruth Marr’s latest letter with anger and a great deal of sympathy.

I have read lots of her letters over the years and much admire her dogged defence of the SNP and the cause of independence. The case she makes is inevitably reasoned and I’ve enjoyed reading her contributions to the ongoing debate as they are passionately temperate (if that isn’t oxymoronic), and persuasive.

However, she may be less happy to learn that I can’t bring myself to share her ultimate desire for the political end-result she desires, as I find it on balance unpersuasive that it is in Scotland’s long-term interest to be uncoupled from the Union.

But I completely respect her right to state her views without fear or favour and I find it appalling to learn that she and her family have suffered the abuse she describes.

Individuals who behave in this moronic and frightening way, from both sides of the divide, are utterly beyond the pale and should be rooted out by any self-respecting political party to which they belong, and ostracised sine die.

Ruth should be encouraged to believe that the large majority of the population is capable of listening to both sides of an argument, even such an emotive one as independence, without resorting to this despicable behaviour.

I make a claim for interpreting the substantive views of the Scottish electorate without, of course, having any empirical evidence to support my statement, yet I express it as a fervent desire that it is accurate and that most people can indulge in polemic debate without resorting to screaming abuse and issuing threats.

To temper my disagreement with Ruth’s case for independence, while I would hesitate to take the ultimate step of breaking away from the Union, like many in Scotland I am shocked at the deceit, lying and empty promises at the core of the ruling Westminster government, and the paucity of evidence and facts behind some of the claims being promoted by the two candidates in pursuit of the Tory Party leadership and position of Prime Minister.

Is realpolitik at play south of the border becoming a significant nail in the Union’s coffin?

Craig Wishart, Eaglesham.


I MAY instinctively be at odds with Ruth Marr on the independence debate but I’m fully with her that abuse is unacceptable from anyone, no matter what side they happen to be on.

So let’s have a collective “You say independence, I say Union, but let’s call the whole abuse off”, (apologies to the late George and Ira Gershwin).

But permit me, still, a chuckle at Steven Camley’s brilliant cartoon of November 5 last year during the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. A police officer speaking into his radio: “We got a situation here, Sarge – the First Minister has glued herself to wee Greta. . .”.

I guess that hardworking and earnest Nicola Sturgeon also saw the funny side.

R Russell Smith, Largs.


GUY Stenhouse’s fortnightly opinion columns should be retitled ‘Same Opinion’ columns as, without fail, they all harp on about the Scottish Government’s profligacy with the money allocated to Scotland by the Barnett formula.

Yesterday’s column (“From ferries to universities, SNP is sewing seeds of decline”), expands on his theme by criticising the Scottish Government for “caving into the unions’’ and for proposing a reasonable wage increase for various workers in the public sector.

I wonder how many of your readers in our social democratic country would agree with the Scottish Government, and how many with your unreconstructed capitalist columnist ?

Sam Craig, Glasgow.


MY lines of thought are possibly too simple for this complex world but I understood the Government to be “people who govern”.

I believe that we are almost independent, as a country, the United Kingdom, in our ability to provide our own energy.

That being the case, and since it appears to me that it is not costing any more now to produce energy as it did last year at this time, why can our Government not govern – and require our producers and suppliers to provide their customers with energy at the same price today?

Sandy Farr, Barrhead.