GIVEN all the discussion about what should happen next in terms of schools, including the issue of national exams, I read with interest an article in the Scottish Educational Journal of the EIS trade union by a former EIS colleague of mine, Alan Crosbie.

In it Alan was arguing for a move to the Finland model of scrapping formal high-stakes assessments completely until the end of S6. I agree with him, but would go even further and not have them in S6 either.

As Alan says, up to S5 they should be replaced with a “teacher-signed qualification certificate for different levels, in recognition of their achievement in deep learning activities up to that point”. In S6 I think, if it were felt there had to be something more, there could be one-to-one in-depth discussions with individual pupils by someone other than the pupil’s own teacher.

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I also agree with scrapping the inspectorate wing of Education Scotland. This organisation was set up supposedly to offer concrete support to schools. However, again as Alan says, it has become obsessed with assessment, moderation and what levels pupils have achieved. When I was the EIS Local Association Secretary for Inverclyde, I spoke with many teachers over the years who said the inspector would say to them “that was a fantastic lesson, but...” thereby offering criticism without offering any real support. This simply caused stress for teachers who were worried that this could affect their careers.

What Alan advocates is something that I, and many others, have been advocating for a long time. To illustrate how long, I will give you an example. I started full-time teaching in August 1975. By June 1976 I had experienced first-hand the huge levels of stress caused to many pupils by the very thought of having to pass their end-of-session formal exams. This started me thinking about how the situation might be improved.

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A couple of years later we had an in-service day where the guest speaker was Charlie Morrison who was a chief executive of IBM UK. He was giving us a talk about devolved management (some things never change!). At the end of the session he agreed to take part in a more general question-and-answer session on education. I asked Charlie if he agreed with me that formal end-of-year assessments should be scrapped, as they caused unnecessary stress and simply produced pupils who could answer a particular question on a particular date but without them demonstrating any in-depth knowledge of a particular subject. To my initial surprise he said he totally agreed with me.

One of the examples he gave to say why he agreed was that the best person he ever worked with in IBM was a man who left school at 15 with no formal qualifications but who had immersed himself in the working of IBM and so knew inside out how it worked. The worst person he had worked with was another man who had not just one but two degrees in computing, thought he knew everything about computing but knew nothing about how his degree knowledge could be put to use in a practical day-to-day situation.

However, he finished by making a point which Alan Crosbie also makes, which is that, while society generally trusts doctors, nurses, accounts and lawyers when they deal with them individually, they do not trust teachers. He jokingly put it down to everyone remembering a teacher they did not like, but he was making a serious point, ie why is it that our system does not trust teachers who are highly qualified and motivated professionals?

Of course, in order to achieve what Alan Crosbie and others are advocating will require a huge change in the whole education system, starting with de-cluttering the primary curriculum (another long-drawn-out affair) to allow young people to enhance their educational curiosity and in-depth knowledge all the way through their educational experience. Perhaps it is time for another high-profile EIS campaign to change the exam system in our schools. Perhaps their slogan could be “Value Education – Trust Teachers”.

Tom Tracey