New school grading system 'very stressful', says Borders pupil

  • Video report by Representing Border's Matty Sutton.

The system that has replaced exams in Scotland after they were cancelled due to the pandemic is causing more anxiety than normal exams, one Borders pupil has told ITV Border. 

National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were all cancelled this year because of the pandemic.

Instead, the Scottish Government and the SQA say results will be based on the judgement of teachers. They are gathering evidence via assessments. 

Matilda Brookes, an S5 pupil at Earlston High School is sitting around 20 assessments.  She said: "They feel very much like exams, it's exam conditions, the papers look the same, same length of time, same content so it's an exam by any other name.

"I think it's very stressful at the moment because I just want get the best grades I can but it's very hard to perform at your optimum level when you're constantly doing assessments."

Her mum, Mel Brookes, who is the chair of Earlston Parent Council, also spoke of the pressure her daughter and her peers are under.

"She's normally very bright and bubbly but she's very quiet, but also physical things like she's really pale, big shadows under her eyes, not eating well at the moment and all these things you'd get a touch of that during normal exam time but I think it's just this overwhelming uncertainty and unusual levels of pressure."

Paul Fagan, deputy headteacher at Peebles High School. Credit: ITV News

Paul Fagan, depute head teacher at Peebles High School, said the system meant there were multiple opportunities for pupils to achieve their grades.

He said: "The previous model of just one exam would have disadvantaged young people across the land because they would have had the one go and if they hadn't been able to perform on that day there was nothing they could do.

"At least what can happen now because we have quite a few assessment opportunities for young people is that they've got that period of time to build up a bank of evidence that teachers can then use to demonstrate attainment."

Andrew O'Halloran, secretary for the teaching union the EIS in Dumfries and Galloway said the extra workload is also putting teachers under pressure. 

He said: "The impact on teachers is similar to the impact on pupils, it's a rush at the end, it's a workload burden and it's a question of stress. What could have been better was to place  much more emphasis on teacher professional judgement, bearing in mind that the people who know the pupils best in terms of their academic work are their teachers." 

Education Secretary John Swinney Credit: PA

The Education Secretary John Swinney has said results will be based on the judgement of teachers. 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Lockdown and the period of remote learning means they are doing assessments for this year's Alternative Certification Model over a shorter period than was anticipated.

"To help address this, coursework has been reduced for most subjects and schools have been given flexibility around the timing and nature of assessments to ensure that, as far as possible, there is maximum opportunity for learners to undertake the required learning and to have the best chance to succeed."

The SQA said in a statement: "The group has been clear that there is no requirement to replicate a full formal exam or prelim diet this year and that results need to be based on demonstrated attainment by assessment in a flexible way to suit local circumstances."