Ed: Responsibility for headline and photo choice is mine
By Alasdair Galloway
Lindsay Paterson again ….
He is quoted in the Herald this morning as claiming re the increased proportion of A grades, “The large rise in A grades was seen across the board – rich and poor, male and female, rural and urban, all ethnic groups.” This he claims “suggests that the explanation does not lie in teachers’ marking, but rather in the instructions about marking that they received from the SQA. Massive grade inflation in such a short period of time cannot be due to better teachers or better students. The only explanation is a failure of the SQA’s processes of quality assurance. Only the SQA is responsible for this damage to the credibility of Scotland’s qualifications.”
There are at least two things wrong with this
- Is he REALLY suggesting that the SQA issued guidance to teachers to give all the kids a break, or even “all shall have prizes”? This, if you think about it, is a very serious claim that the SQA have systematically distorted the assessment of the products of our education system. Really? I would have thought some evidence – hard evidence, not imputed – would have been necessary for this.
- He is almost certainly right that “massive grade inflation in such a short period of time cannot be due to better teachers or better students”. However, the percentage who gained an A was 40% in 2020 and is now 47%, so a substantial increase. However, to justify the term “massive” we need to go back to 2019 when it was 28%. Paterson claims this represents a failure of “SQA’s processes of quality assurance”. How fair or accurate is this?
First of all it is hard to see how a professional academic, and Professor at that, would draw a straight comparison between 2019 when Covid was the working title of a disaster movie, and either 2020 or 2021. In the former year, things were difficult for students, but at least they got almost to Easter without disruption. The year just gone must have seemed like the hokey cokey – in out, in out, shake it all about. 2019 in contrast was like an oasis of calm.
But secondly, and more importantly, what Paterson cheerfully ignores is that he is not only comparing two cohorts with very different experiences of senior school, but whose grades were determined on the basis of different data assessed in a different way. Should we be surprised that with different data and different assessment methods the results are different? To ignore that is not only wrong, but prejudiced and unprofessional.
Perhaps, since I presume the criteria for an A didn’t change over this period, and kids from schools in deprived areas were no longer disadvantaged by a post code lottery, we should consider the possibility that it was the previous system that was wrong. As the recent OECD report on Scottish education pointed out, we have a 21st century curriculum with “Curriculum for Excellence”, which is wedded to a 19th century assessment system. Perhaps its time we considered that possibility, and I hope very much that the Scottish Government will keep its nerve and use this as an opportunity to reassess the assessment system.
What might that look like was debated on last night’s The Nine (BBC Scotland https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000ysp6/the-nine-10082021- starts about 11 minutes in) between Green MSP Ross Greer and Keir Bloomer. The latter considers exams a vital guarantee of consistency and standards, while the former works through the normal critique of exams under exam conditions – stress, feat of memory etc. Bloomer comes back with the view that exams also test reasoning and analysis, but unfortunately no one takes him up on the counterpoint that you don’t need a conventional exam to do this. It can be done perfectly well during the school year – several times in fact. Perhaps the only skill exams demonstrate that is useful in work is if you want to become a professional pub quizzer.
Bloomer in fact doesn’t come out of this terribly well – he not only looks like last year’s man but sounds like it as well. For instance, he suggests anonymous marking guarantees fairness and then says himself that teachers are too well trained for that. About the only point he makes that stands up at all is the need for consistency and to guarantee that an A in one school would get you an A in another school. Higher Ed has addressed this through the external examiner signing to confirm that the standards of that University are the equivalent of a University anywhere in the UK. Setting up this sort of system in schools would be difficult, but not impossible.
In 2022 are we really going to go back to the examination system that we all lived through (just)? Are we really going to present students with little or no experience of this type of examination – for instance next year’s 5th year are the year’s just past’s 4th year, so had no formal exams? Or are we going to celebrate that our school pupils have done better under a different system of assessment, and use this as an opportunity to plan and implement the sort of 21st century assessment system that OECD recommended be put in place? Or listen to last year’s men?