‘School-bus Chasing?’ Thousands appeal every year and BBC Scotland pointlessly reports a tiny handful of this year’s group

Just as with the single hospital cases, among thousands and thousands too successful for words, morbidly presented, after ‘ambulance chasing‘ with opposition politicians, to suggest something wrong, so BBC Scotland’s campaign to find fault with an otherwise astonishing piece of recovery, preserving the futures of thousands, consists of reports like the above.

One student seems justifiably upset and, last year, would have appealed against the grades awarded. The story would not even have made the Motherwell Times but this year, it’s big news.

I seem to remember seeing two ‘A students’ in Stirling, similarly indignant, on Reporting Scotland. I’m sure there will be more but given that there are typically well over 10 000 appeals to the SQA every year, these are just tabloid shock horror stories based on trawling and contacts with opposition politicians.

As for the discrimination against those from deprived areas, that is very real but it does not originate in the schools and the assessment systems. The standards expected in daily school experience and crucially in assessment procedures are more familiar to middle-class pupils with parents and grandparents who know how to make sure their offspring succeed.

Pupils from disadvantaged areas do less well in assessment because they do less well in assessment. The system is criterion-referenced and so, to the extent that any can be, objective and fair.

The failure has been in the decades of inter-generational poverty and inequality experienced by working-class and deprived pupils growing up in homes with no quiet place to study, no books, no museum visits and crucially parents unfamiliar with and unable to help with meeting the expectations of the system they will enter.

Society IS to blame. More equal societies have more equal education systems.

Scotland’s failures belong at the feet of those politicians who champion the unequal competition in deregulated brutal capitalism and of those alleged socialists who have stewarded the Scottish system to the place it was in, 12 years ago.

Though hamstrung by limited powers over inequality, the SNP administration has at least narrowed the attainment gap.

16 thoughts on “‘School-bus Chasing?’ Thousands appeal every year and BBC Scotland pointlessly reports a tiny handful of this year’s group”

  1. Just to be awkward, may I ask a simple question – Why do we as a society use these assessment processes to ‘brand’ for life our young people after subjecting them to years of officially standardised school curricula?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Mr Kier Bloomer was making the same argument as you,Mr Robertson. You might or might not be entirely happy to be in the same camp as him on this issue. The effects of poverty are pernicious and, while schools can do and have done much to ameliorate things they cannot do this is isolation.

    I have not had time yet to look at the results and the information regarding the moderation system used during these unique circumstances and so, cannot make an informed comment at this time. However, almost every year as far back as I can remember the media have made a fuss about perceived failures in the system. Unlike many countries, there is an appeals system and it has been operating for decades. There are also thousands of teachers involved with the SQA in a wide range of tasks, from question writing, marking, subject panels through to establishing the ‘cut-offs’, moderation and appeals.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I made the mistake of tackling a friend’s Facebook entry last night. I only did so because he’s off to train as a teacher next month and I felt someone should warn him there’s more to educational analysis than anecdote and speculation.  My intervention hasn’t helped. Three teachers he knows have now joined the discussion, all adding to the air of indignation by quoting wee stories. In one case, an Advanced Higher class of 9 where the teacher expected all of his pupils in a  school in (his definition) a deprived area to get As (with maybe a couple of pupils getting ‘borderline Bs’). Without knowing a thing about this group, I’d say maybe the estimates lack credibility. In 20 years of teaching  in an island school/a deprived scheme school/a well-off school in an affluent area, I never had the good fortune to have a group as gifted as that. I asked if he would be appealing on behalf of his 8 pupils who did not get As. He wondered what would be the point. If I was his heidie, I’d be having a word. 

    And in case anyone thinks I don’t understand the realities of education, I came up through a deprived scheme school and went on to do 2 degrees. I also spent 12 years supporting schools in raising attainment. But I don’t kid myself that any government can overnight repair the damage of well over a century of poverty, deprivation and lack of ambition in some of our most shattered communities. I’m not an SNP supporter but I applaud the Scottish Government for putting as much support as possible into early  years education.  Jean

    Liked by 4 people

  4. An article in wired.com in 2017 entitled ‘The Cognitive Bias President Trump Understands Better Than You’ has something relevant to tell us about this method of news reporting.

    Source: https://www.wired.com/2017/02/cognitive-bias-president-trump-understands-better/

    It notes that “norms aren’t news. … The aberrant occurrence is the story you’ll read and the picture you’ll see. It’s news because it’s new.”

    However, it explains that the problem here is not just that this singling out creates a distorted version of what’s really happening, it’s also that the human psyche is predisposed to take an aberration—what linguist George Lakoff has called the ‘salient exemplar’—and conflate it with the norm.

    The Wired article acknowledges that such cognitive bias itself isn’t new but in a media environment driven by clicks, it’s “newly exploitable”. There are lots of interest groups looking to taking advantage of this bias.

    Psychologists call this bias the ‘availability heuristic’. The Wired piece quotes Northeastern University psychologist John Coley who explains: “It basically works the way memory works: you judge the frequency, the probability, of something based on how easily you can bring it to mind. Creating a vivid, salient image .. is a great way to make it memorable.”

    It is argued that if we can’t totally eliminate the brain’s natural predisposition, we can at least work against the potential for bias it creates by understanding that it exists.

    It is notable that the Wired’s writer is expressing concern about journalists being used by those I.e. by others, who seek to exploit salient exemplars for their own ends. “Journalists in particular need to be mindful because exploiters of this bias … are taking advantage not just of the way the human brain works but the way journalism works. The daily news at its worst becomes a catalog of salacious salient exemplars that only serve to distort the reality journalism in its most ideal version aspires to reflect.”

    The article has a US focus and is concerned over the use of salient exemplars by President Trump. It quotes Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard: ”We haven’t done as good a job of actually explaining how things function at a higher level, the success stories. This failing aided Trump during the campaign. By focusing on negative stories, the news helped to paint a picture of an America in need of ‘being made great again’.” The Wired article concludes that news reporters need to get smarter about covering the non-aberrant, to show that commonplace does not equal mundane. “It may not be rare, but it’s reality.”

    Of course we in Scotland see the blatant exploitation of the ‘salient exemplar’ not only by opposition politicians, and not only by journalists in the corporate media but also – inexcusably – by reporters working for public service broadcasters. Unlike the picture painted in the Wired article for the USA – of Trump media managers taking advantage of journalists – here in Scotland too many journalists seem complicit with opposition politicians in the use of the aberrant, in the exploitation of ‘salient exemplars’ for their common ends.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The worst thing is the media making such a big song and dance about this. As if exams cannot be resat, as if they mean the B all and end all to everything, they don’t and they shouldn’t. They are only one way of assessing a persons abilities, the system is far from ideal. I had to resit some A levels in England, to get to college to study what I was passionate about. (art, more fool me!) To me it was a memory test, that is all, and my memory has never been good, whereas my son has an amazing memory for some things, maybe not street names, but he can recite songs word for word if hearing it only once, and used to repeat adverts when he was wee (!) when we did watch TV.

    Everyone is different in how they percieve and learn, the one size fits all is not helpful imo. The media are out for blood, anti SNP, pro unionist parties, it’s a disgrace the level of bias. The kids can resit exams, not ideal but it’s not the end of the world to get a ‘B’ and not an ‘A’, is it? Do universities and companies etc want robots with ‘A’s or good well rounded inquisitive thinking, intelligent students/workers who might have ‘A’ s or ‘B’s and even ‘C’s.

    Humans are not robots, and the so called media do not help in deliberately conjuring a hugely negative climate of us and them, failure and success, ‘once in a lifetime’ rubbish. Those making this into a crisis are rubbing salt into the wound, our kids in Scotland deserve better. Their future is not wholly reliant on whether they got an ‘A’ or a ‘B’!

    Great article btw, we need to point out the damage done to Scotland’s people especially in areas that they deliberately kept poor, utterly criminal, long term damage, with knock on effects. Does not bare thinking about what Scotland would be like now with a Britnat party at the helm at Holyrood, and years of Tory rule at Westminster, sends shivers down the spine. They had decades, ceneturies even and did nothing for Scotland, it will take many years to come to repair their terrible legacy of poverty, bad housing (if any) unemployment, and dismantling of crucial public services.

    Sorry long comment and any typos, dyslexic on keyboards.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Despairing, but transparent and predictable responses from MSM and Union supporters. The comparison of 2020 outcomes with 2019 shows improvements of:
    Nationals 2.9% in straight comparison , but expressed as a % improvement year on year it’s 3.7%
    Highers 4.1% but % improvement 5.5%
    Advanced Highers 5.5%, % improvement 6.9%

    These are stated after moderation and, in a normal year and less febrile atmosphere, would been seen widely as as outstanding progress, especially as the attainment gap has also been reduced. Had the results not been moderated down, nobody would have believed them. Just imagine the outcry about dropping marking standards, cheapening the qualifications and rigging the data for political ends etc if the original teacher assessments been allowed to stand. The SQA, which has a crucial overseer role, would have lost all credibility and respect.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/39/4/668/3058978

    “For the pre-war cohort, late-1960 and 1970s deindustrialisation eroded some of the town’s protective social and economic resources, ahead of the process of rapid change that was to come under the UK government’s commitment to neoliberal policy from the 1980s onwards. For many this brought ‘early retirement’ through redundancy, declining housing quality through residualisation of public stock, increasing exposure to social dysfunction and the need to support their children in negotiating adulthood in a new, post-industrial Clydebank.

    For the post-war cohort, early years spent in the relatively prosperous post-war period gave way to unequal access to employment and, connectedly, housing in early adulthood. The persistence of these inequalities throughout adulthood are likely to have been particularly damaging in the context of welfare state shrinkage. These processes opened up wide inequalities during the 1980s and 90s, driven largely by a lack of access to reliable, well-paid employment and subsequent impacts on access to housing, social connectedness, positive identity and power.

    This, in turn, placed a significant proportion of the post-industrial cohort at risk of exposure to poverty and inequality during their early years and early adulthood—two particularly formative life stages. This repeated and reinforced the difficulties their parents’ generation had faced when moving into adulthood.

    Overall, for those who fared poorly after the initial introduction of neoliberal policy in the 1970s, subsequent policy decisions have served to deepen and entrench those negative effects. The fact that neoliberalism has constituted a suite of rapidly and concurrently implemented policies, cross-cutting a variety of domains, which have reached into every part of people’s lives, has ensured that its impacts on quality of life have been incredibly powerful.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember all that. Being from NE England and my dad made redundant twice, having lived in dire poverty during WW2, forced to work aged 10, having watched the Brit army take over his school and burn the books in the playgrounds, it pretty much broke him.

      Like many unable to support their famillies then, it was a terrible time for the ‘working class’. Immasculated, poverty stricken, no prospects. It’s why my dad welcomed UK joining the EU. He’d be horrified at what is happening now in the disgraceful Tory run UK, really horrified.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I support Scottish independence. I believed it was certain an independent Scotland would firmly reject neoliberalism. i don’t now think that is certain.


  9. Hetty

    If that ?? is to my few sentences here is my explanation. To deal with the health inequalities caused by poverty, the remedy is to redistribute, wealth, income and power. Scotland lacks the power to do that effectively, so I thought. We needed, I believe, control of welfare and economic policies to be able to redistribute effectively.

    I think there are alternative means. Using the Council Tax would be one method. It would require re valuing and changing the bands and charges and legislating to do that. Doing that could mean the poor do not pay disproportionately more than the better off as happens now.

    A land tax could work also. What is happening on that front, do you know?


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