A new start with the OECD report?

I look forward to the review of Scotland’s education bodies in the light of the OECD report. Neil McLennan (Herald Voices, 22/6/21) makes the excellent point that ‘teachers should be at the heart of decisions’ and I wholeheartedly concur. The only problem is that teachers and young people were widely consulted in the SQA development process which created the current National Qualifications. There was no uniform view. 

From 2009-2012 I worked as an SQA consultant in social subjects, working to create the new National Qualifications which sought to embody the principles of CFE. At one very well attended twilight meeting with teachers in East Lothian, my colleague and I presented SQA’s thoughts to date, which were of fewer ‘high stakes exams’ and greater teacher and learner choice. We were given a round of applause and we left in high spirits. We went to a similar meeting in Dundee the next day and were lucky to leave the room in one piece as teachers demanded ‘no more change’!  

Against a backdrop of funding cuts to councils and schools, the voices of conservatism won the day. When the new ‘CFE’ qualifications were put in place in 2014 they were not that different from the old. The two term dash at Higher remained. Pupils were taught to the exam which, in the drive for ‘consistency’, saw the creation of often incomprehensible tick box, one size fits all marking instructions across social subjects. Existing, creative course work in subjects such as Classical Studies and RMPS were dumbed down to the extended essay model of History which was then rolled out to the other social subjects. The ‘Assignment’ which was subsequently created is loathed by many teachers and learners but it was the result of many teachers (rightly) concerned that they would not be supported in any meaningful way to manage change. They preferred the devil they knew instead of the brave new world.  

The vast bulk of Scottish teachers, from my experience, are resilient and open minded professionals. They deal with challenges and pressures many others would baulk at. I’m pleased the OECD report endorses CFE because its aims and values are sound. The problem is it doesn’t matter how good a curriculum is, if the people delivering it are disempowered and demotivated it can’t succeed. Teachers do need to be at the heart of the new reforms, which I hope will end ‘high stakes’ exams and embrace the many positive aspects of digital technology available to us.

Timidity has been the hallmark of the SNP’s approach to education. It has allowed a joyless, school league table exam obsessed senior phase to be created. It has tinkered with tackling educational inequalities. It has treaded water. In the discussions about how to take CFE forward, it is not enough to have teachers’ voices, teachers need to know they will be given the time and resources to discuss, plan and teach an enjoyable and meaningful curriculum. If we really want a world class education service we need to fund it.  

THAT Politics 20 marker

There’s a slight change, a new option in Higher Politics this year. Centres, should they wish, can now choose to compare the Scottish, UK or US political system with that of the People’s Republic of China.

I wonder how many will?!

Can I suggest a different, and I’ll postulate a more popular, amendment?

Do something about THAT 20 mark source question?

To what extent does the evidence contained in Sources …… support the viewpoint?

It was never designed to be a 20 mark question.

As recently as 2018 it was an 8 mark question, comprising 13% of the overall marks available.

With the 2019 revision a few more sentences and sources were added and it became a monster 20 marker, taking up 25% of the marks available!

It is clearly one of the ‘deal breaker’ questions for candidates.

Yet, despite the fact the bulk of Higher candidates are teenagers, one would need a degree in SQAology to decode the question!

For example, take the 2019 viewpoint.

It’s pretty obvious that there’s a few exaggerated and/or inaccurate statements in there. It would be reasonable to expect a candidate to spot these and point out, using the sources, that the viewpoint may or may not be supported by the evidence.

So, why complicate things?

The Marking Instructions ask the candidates to firstly dissect the viewpoint into two viewpoints (despite the fact that there are three sentences, not two).

And then, within viewpoint one, there are two components and within viewpoint two there are three components!

Why does it have to be this complicated?

At the very least, could there not be some signposting in the question? For example,

Viewpoint One: Component One

Viewpoint Two: Component Two etc

Let the youngsters know what it is they are supposed to be commenting on?

That would be an improvement.

The skill, after all, which is supposed to be being assessed is

interpreting and evaluating a wide range of electoral data

SQA Higher Politics Course Specification

Not “identifying two distinct viewpoints and breaking them down into components”

A better solution would be to come up with an entirely different kind of question, one intended for the current paper, not the old one.

CFE exam questions were supposed to be transparent to all (including learners and parents) which this one clearly isn’t but also capable of being written by practising teachers.

Has any teacher out there tried to write their own one of these questions?

Apart from the time involved, which is considerable, fitting the evidence into these artificially created viewpoints and components is soul destroying.

So, if there’s any Higher Politics powerbrokers looking in, come on, let’s do something about this question.

It’s not fair on the candidates and it’s damaging what is, on the whole, a very enjoyable course to teach.