Children Allowed to See Questions before Exams; Education Chiefs' Controversial Plan to Improve Motivation in the Classroom

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 10, 1999 | Go to article overview

Children Allowed to See Questions before Exams; Education Chiefs' Controversial Plan to Improve Motivation in the Classroom


Byline: ANDREW BEAVEN

PUPILS are to be shown Standard Grade questions four months before sitting the examination.

From next year, pupils sitting modern languages papers will be told in January exactly what questions they will face when they sit them in May.

Examiners argue that students will be more motivated to attempt exam papers if they have been allowed to 'practise and prepare' their essay answers.

Last night, however, teachers and opposition MSPs roundly condemned the move, accusing the examining authorities of devaluing the exam system and of deliberately making papers easier in order to artificially boost pass rates.

The controversial changes were announced in a memo by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Government body responsible for exams, to secondary schools.

In recent years there has been a marked decrease in the number of pupils studying modern languages and a new style of Standard Grades is planned for 2002. For the next two years, however, the authority has introduced interim changes in the way written work is examined for French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.

The memo said: 'The content of the Writing papers at both General and Credit Levels in each of the languages will be issued to centres in the January preceding the examination diet.

'This will enable candidates to practise and prepare for the tasks set and should encourage drafting, redrafting and reflection which is present in the Higher Still arrangements.' The only reference material students will be allowed to take with them into the examination room will be a dictionary.

The SNP believes the exam system has been altered simply to allow a greater number of passes.

Education spokesman Nicola Sturgeon said: 'With exams like these, all the candidates have to do is to memorise carefully prepared answers. It is wrong to bribe pupils with the lure of easy yet meaningless qualifications.' She added: 'This is a deliberate and cynical attempt to improve pass rates. Two or three years down the line the SQA will be crowing about vastly improved statistics for pupils sitting modern languages Standard Grades, yet all they have done is make the exams much easier.' The Scottish Tories last night said they would be demanding a full explanation from the Scottish Qualifications Authority as well as assurances that standards in exams would be maintained.

Education spokesman Brian Monteith said he was afraid making Standard Grades easier would lead to problems for pupils progressing to Highers.

He said: 'This is one of the clearest examples yet that standards are dropping in Scottish education.

The SQA is deliberately making it easier for pupils to pass exams. I fear for pupils who pass their Standard Grades with flying colours and who then progress to Highers only to fail because they have not mastered the basic skills of the language.' Mr Monteith also argued that the authority should have waited for the full results of the modern languages inquiry before introducing short-term changes.

He added: 'This is a self-serving move by the SQA which will only benefit those whose job it is to calculate official statistics for the number of schoolchildren passing exams. …

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