Teachers have described the new pupil assessment process, designed after exams were scrapped as a result of Covid lockdowns, as a “nightmare” for youngsters and colleagues, as a new survey found just 20 per cent think the tests are “fair and reasonable”.
In a survey by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, which represents 6,500 high school headteachers and staff, 75 per cent of teachers said their pupils had difficulties providing suitable evidence to be assessed.
A total of 85 per cent send said the “collection, marking and moderation of evidence” had created “substantial additional workload for their pupils” and 92 per cent said the whole process had added to the stress of their pupils.
The poll of 1,711 teachers also found 86 per cent of teachers had pupils missing from classes when schools were open because of Covid, 90 per cent had children missing through other illness, and 78 per cent said pupils were absent because of stress.
The formal exam diet for Highers and Advanced Highers was cancelled in December for the second year running, while the National 5 qualifications, normally sat by fourth-year pupils, were also halted for the second consecutive year.
The ACM was then designed by the SQA with input from the Scottish Government’s new National Qualifications body, which included teaching union, the Educational Institute for Scotland.
However, the SSTA was not involved in the process, and Seamus Searson, the union’s general secretary, said his members’ survey responses “gave a clear indication of the difficulties teachers and pupils are facing in trying to deliver the ACM.”
“The collecting of evidence demanded by the SQA in such a short time period, without making any allowance for the disruption caused by the pandemic, is putting a heavy burden on teachers and pupils.
He added: “The SQA’s focus on collected evidence, which doesn’t adequately take into account the disruption in schools, will lead to a large number of disillusioned young people and very unhappy parents.
Comments by headteachers in the survey roundly condemned the assessment process with one saying: “This whole ACM has been a nightmare of stress for both staff and pupils. I have visibly seen the stress on the faces of my staff and the pupils. This has been the worst, most pressurised time of my whole career.”
Another headteacher said: “Workload has been phenomenal. Teaching and leading for over 20 years. I have never had a workload like this year.
“My staff and I are exhausted, stressed and deeply concerned about the mental health of pupils within our care. The logistics and timescale of what we are being asked to do is unachievable within a normal working week.”
One said: “This session has been a total disaster from the SQA. Persistent changes in outgoing information have made it very frustrating with regards to keeping pupils informed and composed.
“The ACM and guidance surrounding it has only gone on to cause a total nightmare for pupils, teachers and senior managers. We have practically inherited the workload of the SQA in terms of administering, marking and moderating assessments.”
“Parents have not read the SQA advice that we have to work to, and just hear that teachers supposedly have more control than we actually do.
“If [the] SQA did not follow the advice they were given by the politicians, then that needs looked at immediately. It is too late to institute major change, but the inclusion of teacher judgement and consideration of individual circumstances would be welcome.”
A third teacher said: “Assessments are a disgrace. They are exams pure and simple.
Mr Searson, has now written to newly-appointed education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville asking her to call a halt to the assessment process.
In his letter, which includes the survey results, he said: “The ACM is a process that may, with some adjustments, be something that will benefit the Scottish National Qualifications in the future, but is currently causing severe problems for schools, teachers and most importantly the pupils.
“The ACM leaves no space for teacher professional judgement and makes no allowance for the disruption caused to the education system by the Covid-19 pandemic. The ACM, as it is presently constructed, and its obsession for collected evidence, will penalise a large number of pupils this year.”
A SQA spokesperson said: “We fully appreciate that the impact of Covid has been extremely challenging for learners, teachers and lecturers. Everyone is working hard to ensure young people across Scotland get the qualifications they deserve.
“The approach to certification has been developed by the National Qualifications 2021 Group, which includes the EIS, School Leaders Scotland, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and learner and parent representatives. This is a flexible framework for schools and colleges that combines professional judgement with evidence of learning.”
“As the Cabinet Secretary confirmed in Parliament the outcomes of the appeals consultation will be announced next week. This is a very important part of the overall model. Learners and teaching staff should be reassured that a comprehensive appeals process will be in place in good time.”