Four fifths of teachers think Scottish exam replacements are unfair and blame SQA for ‘disaster’ – The Scotsman

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.

Overall just 20 per cent of teachers believe the Alternative Certification Model (ACM), set out by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), is a fair and reasonable method of assessment, with 76 per cent calling for teacher professional judgement to be the major factor in their assessment this year.

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.”

He said: “The SQA is in its own world, oblivious to the real situation in schools. It has shown little understanding of the situation in schools and the damage it is doing to pupils and teachers.

“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.

“Worryingly, only 36 per cent of members believed that the evidence that they have collected truly demonstrated their pupil’s attainment. This highlights the potentially high number of pupils who will get grades lower than would have been expected in a normal year.”

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.

“The SQA must change its stance and allow the flexibility for teacher professional judgement, in addition to the collected evidence, to ensure all young people achieve the results that they deserve.”

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.”

Subject teachers were also critical of the SQA, saying “crazy expectations” had put pupils “under so much stress”.

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.

“Pupils, teachers and parents [are] fully aware the SQA has done nothing to aid mental health and has exacerbated the situation by providing guidance AFTER most of the course work was completed.”

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.”

He added: “The SSTA urges you to intervene and allow teachers to use their professional judgement to supplement the collected evidence and ensure no pupils are penalised this year as a consequence of the pandemic. Pupils who will not receive levels of attainment, to which they are entitled, will have an impact not only this year but may restrict any plans they may have in the remaining years at school and beyond.

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.”

Covid crisis: Nicola Sturgeon needs to realise the buck stops with her in Scotland – The Scotsman

The early days of the pandemic seem long ago. As the cases began to multiply in northern Italy, we joined planeloads of Scottish rugby followers for the jaunt to Rome, the only hint that something was amiss being the temperature checks on arrival at Fiumicino Airport.

Nicola Sturgeon leapt on Dominic Cummings’ testimony as an opportunity to attack the UK government when the evidence shows the outcomes north and south of the Border were the same, says John McLellan.
Four days later, delegates gathered at Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton Hotel for a Nike sports conference, but one of them was carrying the virus and we now know at least 25 people linked to the conference were infected, probably more. The public wasn’t informed because the Scottish government chose not to, using the cover of patient confidentiality to keep the outbreak quiet.

By the time this was revealed in a BBC Scotland investigation broadcast mid-May last year, Covid-19 had killed 3,500 people in Scotland and, as readers of this column might recall, one of them was my father.

That investigation included a study by a team of Edinburgh University epidemiological scientists which concluded that had lockdown been introduced in Scotland two weeks earlier than March 23 then 2,000 coronavirus deaths could have been prevented, but the Scottish government insisted it acted on the best advice available.

The scientists drew the same conclusion about the UK as a whole, something which ex-Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings went into in brutal detail this week, blaming the NHS’s lack or preparedness and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s indecision for causing “tens of thousands” of unnecessary deaths.

The 2,000 avoidable Scottish deaths equates to just short of 20,000 fatalities across the UK, so Mr Cummings wasn’t exaggerating, but neither was he saying anything particularly new.

He delivered an extraordinary inside account of internal chaos far sooner than a public inquiry, but thanks to the success of the vaccine programme the public has moved on, as demonstrated in a Survation UK poll this week showing Conservative support up five per cent at the expense of Labour.

We have no similar account of what happened in Scotland because no senior Scottish civil servant has had such a spectacular falling-out with the boss as Mr Cummings, but it’s fair to assume there was a similar sense of desperation as realisation dawned that they faced an unimaginable health crisis with no plan to cope.

According to an Audit Scotland report in February, the Scottish government’s initial response was based on a 2011 UK flu pandemic strategy, having not fully implemented the findings of three subsequent preparedness exercises. “These included measures to ensure access to enough PPE and to quickly address social care capacity, both of which became significant issues during the first wave of Covid-19,” said the report.

But that’s not the impression conveyed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week. “Sometimes I’m afraid, in the interests of health and human life, it is necessary for people in leadership positions like me to take very quick decisions, because as we know from bitter experience over this pandemic, it’s often the failure to take quick and firm decisions that leads to loss of life,” she said. “Anybody who’s in any doubt about that only had to listen to a fraction of what Dominic Cummings outlined about what he described as the chaotic response of the UK government at key moments of this pandemic.”

Memories are indeed short, so perhaps Ms Sturgeon had forgotten about the Edinburgh University study, or the Audit Scotland report, or that having taken full control of the pandemic response she presided over the clear-out of elderly patients from hospitals to care homes.

Perhaps she had forgotten that now retired Health Secretary Jeane Freeman had admitted they “didn’t take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital going into care homes were as safe as they could be”.

Over 3,000 people in Scottish care homes died from Covid-19, and it’s probably where my father picked up the virus after he was discharged from Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth hospital, a failure Ms Freeman attributed to “not understanding the social care sector well enough”.

Not understanding the social care system after running it for 14 years was an extraordinary admission. With that background, a dignified response from Ms Sturgeon would have been to acknowledge that all leaders faced difficult decisions in the face of a fast-advancing and unknown deadly threat.

Instead she leapt on Mr Cummings’ testimony as an opportunity to attack the UK government and portray herself as the epitome of calm and effective control when every statistic, expert opinion and even her own ministers demonstrate the outcome was identical.

“The point I was making,” she emphasised, “was about the importance of careful, cautious, responsible decision-making in the face of a deadly virus.” Tragically, the expert view is that 2,000 people might have lived had she been careful, cautious and responsible a fortnight earlier.

But like Mr Johnson, polls will probably show public opinion remaining on Ms Sturgeon’s side, which makes her sneery insinuations all the more unnecessary, especially as significant problems persist with the Scottish vaccine system which are resulting in thousands of missed appointments, while the English roll-out motors.

This is the sort of responsibility which Ms Sturgeon cannot dodge and these issues are only going to mount as the NHS struggles to cope with the surge in demand for delayed treatment and the diagnosis of illnesses undetected because of lockdown.

There will be a limit to how much slack the public will cut the Scottish government when relatives are kept waiting for life-saving or enhancing operations and the buck stops at Bute House.

It must also face up to the challenge of dealing with the damaged education of thousands of children in a system which was failing before the pandemic, and for which the response has been to avoid, fudge or delay the tools for measuring progress.

No wonder the SNP keeps the sword of a referendum dangling over Scotland’s head; like Mr Cummings, Ms Sturgeon needs someone to blame.

Nicola Sturgeon ‘red listing’ Scotland as holiday bookings slump amid confusion over coronavirus rules – Daily Record

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of “red listing” ­Scotland as holiday ­bookings slump amid confusion over Covid-19 rules.

Industry leaders have warned ­hundreds of millions of pounds is being lost because tourists don’t know if the country is open for business.

While much of the nation has moved to Level 2, the First ­Minister announced on Friday that Glasgow – a major transport hub – will remain in Level 3 for at least another week.

It means people cannot travel in or out of the city without a good reason or visit one another’s houses. ­Hospitality firms also face tighter rules.

Meanwhile, even in Level 2, strict social distancing rules mean many venues and visitor attractions are closed or operating at reduced ­capacity.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), said: “We carried out research which showed very clearly that forward ­bookings are exceptionally low across the country, particularly in our cities.

“From my conversations with ­businesses and ­representatives across all tourism sectors, it’s apparent that guidance in some respects is not clear enough.

“We receive a number of inquiries every day from people unsure about what they can and can’t do in Scotland. So it’s critical there is clear communication from the Scottish and UK Governments to ensure anybody looking to visit or holiday in Scotland is equipped with clear facts.

“There needs to be a very strong and clear message coming from the ­Scottish Government that Scotland is open and we welcome all.”

An STA study found 83 per cent of hoteliers believe their business will be financially unsustainable if trading at two metres physical ­distancing – a requirement even at Level 2.

Stephen Montgomery, of the ­Scottish Hospitality Group, added: “The danger is that the First Minister is effectively red listing Scotland as a destination this summer. It’s crucial for the ­hospitality sector to get back on its feet and start ­employing people again.

“As things stand, people ­thinking of visiting Scotland on ­holiday don’t know whether they’re even allowed to travel through ­Glasgow or if they’re allowed to book a hotel. Public health is paramount but it feels like the ­Government is just not interested in listening or ­working with business and that’s putting hundreds of ­millions of pounds worth of ­economic activity at risk.”

The decision to keep Glasgow in Level 3 has come after Covid ­outbreaks, mainly on the city’s south side, although hospital admissions have not risen significantly.

Every other area of Scotland is in Level 2 or Level 1. In England, tiered rules have been dropped after being deemed ­ineffective and too hard to ­understand.

Paul Waterson, owner of the Golden Lion Hotel in ­Stirling, said: “The ­situation is dire, bookings are way down and this idea that everyone was going to be rushing out on staycations just hasn’t ­happened. We’re sitting from one day to the next not knowing what the rules are going to be, it feels like the Government has learned nothing.

“In Glasgow, you have this crazy situation where you can go into a pub but you can’t get a drink.

“Potentially hundreds of millions in revenue will be lost over the next few months which should be some of the busiest of the year.

“We still don’t have weddings of any size, we don’t have ­conferences, we don’t have many attractions open which bring in ­tourists.”

Sturgeon has said she hopes ­Glasgow will be able to move to Level 2 on Saturday and it’s hoped the rules will ease further in mid-June.

But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Glasgow firms had been “struggling to survive” and that the SNP’s approach to business needed a “complete overhaul”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said there needs to be a “proper route map and exit plan”. He added: “I think there is a real risk that public trust and ­confidence is breaking down.”