AS someone who worked as a marker for the SQA and who also served as a member of the teaching profession for 41 years, I was more than slightly interested in James McEnaney’s article ("How the SQA grades exams", The Herald, August 8).

The Exam Board’s overall approach seems to be based on a simple assumption - that is, that there should be minimal fluctuation in the pool of results year on year. In other words, every year should be pretty much of a muchness, allowing for the occasional subject-specific blip (usually sensationalised in the media). This approach normally addresses such issues as rogue papers (either too easy or too hard) and national (and perhaps local) events beyond the control of the schools. Thus, the fluctuating threshold points –for example, 67%, 68% or perhaps even 72% for an A pass – can be used to even out "‘issues" that might rock the boat and, dare I say it, cause grief for our politicians.

I have to say I have long had misgivings about this approach. As any teacher will tell you, there is a natural variation in results year on year. Every secondary school subject department experiences "good" years and "not so good" years (I hesitate to use the word "bad" in terms of results). Ultimate pupil performance will undoubtedly be affected by specific issues such as a prolonged staff absence where no replacement teacher has been available, leading to inevitable disruption. But that is not to deny that the number of top students, middling students and so on fluctuates naturally from one year to the next. We used to make bad jokes about there being "something in the water" to explain these ups and downs but it was an annual reality, despite the huge efforts that were made to support all of our pupils to achieve the very best results possible.

However, by adopting the proportionate awards basis outlined above, everything ends up looking "normal" within the national context.

Rob Kelly, Bearsden.

How to get a fairer system

DURING this week of exams results arriving on Scottish senior pupils’ mobile phones and through letterboxes, James McEnaney is to be congratulated for his rather brave exposition on how the SQA arrives at exam grades every year.

To cope with two annual variables, the different exam content and different pupils, Mr McEnaney explains how norm referencing of grades was introduced to allow for national distribution statistics. Unfortunately the relativity aspect it possesses means that in theory a pupil can get a good "B" one year but the same performance might marginally gain an "A" if they sat the exam a different year.

The SQA grading system seems to be ideally suited to meeting the aims of certain people in power who want a compliant, consistent and predicable society where adjustments are made to ensure everyone knows their place in the bell curve distribution. Understanding the system also helps explain the tiresome similarity about the annually published league tables of school results.

I consider it would be much fairer if pupils were assessed and graded on whether they meet the criteria for success in an individual exam. Such an exam shows in absolute terms if a pupil has mastered a subject. The present system only shows how they perform relative to all the other pupils.

Imagine the consequences if the SQA were in charge of the UK driving test. I expect that drivers who got a “ C” pass would have to pay a higher insurance premium the rest of their life.

Bill Brown, Milngavie.

Read more: What Glasgow needs most is a leadership able to rise to the task

Hearing loss is no joke

I FOUND Doug Marr's piece (“Are hearing aids worth it?, I hear you ask”, The Herald, August 7) to be most amusing and reflecting my own experience. The audiologist says your brain will learn to cut out the ambient overtones – but it doesn't. A soft kitchen paper towel still sounds like crackly cellophane.

However, more seriously, since I got my stereo earplugs (on the NHS) I now realise how much I have been missing. My mother had serious ear damage in her youth, thanks to Herr Hitler's bombardment of Glasgow, and we found, at family get-togethers, how withdrawn she had become – and I realise now that she was missing all the wisecracks and family jokes because the sounds were just a buzz, and she was feeling isolated and depressed. Not good.

So, I would back Mr Marr's advice to get your hearing "seen to" – whether you have attended too many rock concerts or (in my case) played in front of huge brass and percussion sections in orchestras. Accept old age. A hearing aid is just the same as having to wear glasses.

Hugh Steele, Cumbernauld.

• I CONCUR with all that Doug Marr comments on regarding loss of hearing and resorting to aids. I have worn them now for a good number of years and have borne the brunt of stupid remarks and gestures as described, those doing so by those actions inferring a form of idiocy. A cutting remark I have had occasion to actually hear has been “He’s deaf, he’ll not know what I am saying anyway”.

Good as the majority of aids are I still feel cut off from public contact.

John Macnab, Falkirk.

Well, thank goodness for Sax

I THINK the imputation deplored by David Gray, that there were few famous Belgians (Letters, August 7) is now just a convention, and that people know it to be nonsense, just as most will know that the cuckoo clock was devised in Germany, not in Switzerland.

Mr Gray didn’t mention Egide Walschaerts, but those who remember proper railway locomotives will have frequently marvelled, when contemplating external valve gear, at the ingenuity with which he secured constant lead and resultant ideal steam distribution in the cylinder by deriving the requisite valve timings from a combination of main crosshead and intercalated return crank action.

Incidentally, wasn’t it a good thing that is was Adolphe Sax and not the rival wind instrument makers Thiboudville-Lamy Frères who had the idea of putting a clarinet mouthpiece on the ophicleide and thereby inventing his most successful instrument? Imagine going through life having to tell people that you’re a thiboudvillelamyfrerophonist.

Robin Dow, Rothesay.