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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Exam pass fall sparks rethink call
Pupil sitting exam
Less than 60% of pupils passed Higher English
Leading Scottish educationalists have called for yet another rethink of the Higher English exam after a drop in the pass rate.

More than 40% of those who sat the exam this year failed - and more than a quarter of them scored 30% or less.

Those figures have prompted criticism of the new-look exam, which was reshaped by the Scottish Qualification Authority.

The SQA said it would listen to concerns - although communications manager Mike Haggerty warned against any "knee-jerk reactions".

Figures released as pupils received their results on Tuesday showed that 59.2% of candidates passed Higher English this year, compared to 64.7% in 2002.

By contrast, the pass rate for Higher maths rose from 64.3% to 66.8%.

'Possibly the worst'

Overall, the Higher pass rate fell for the second year in a row.

The critics of the English exam include Brian Boyd, a reader in education at Strathclyde University.

He said: "The present Higher English examination is possibly the worst Higher English examination in my 33 years of teaching.

"It has been changed four times in the last four years and I think teachers are simply at sixes and sevens as to how best to prepare young people.

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"It seems to me that once the dust has settled on this particular set of results we have got to have a rethink."

Mr Boyd said it was "ludicrous" that the current examination failed to test key writing and speaking skills.

He argued that there were two "key types of writing" which should be assessed - creative writing in its various forms and report writing.

The SQA was advised on the structure of the new exam by a committee chaired by Glasgow headteacher Ken Cunningham.

He said that the decision to drop the creative writing element should be reversed.

He also voiced concerns that pupils in third and fourth year were not being sufficiently prepared for the demands of the Higher English syllabus.

Assessment load

Mr Haggerty said that this year's examination had been changed as part of the national qualifications review.

"Everyone in the education community was looking for a reduction in the assessment load for pupils and teachers alike," he said.

He drew a comparison with Higher maths, which he said had now "bedded down" and shown improvements in attainment and pass levels.

Girl opening results with parents looking on
Pupils received their results on Tuesday
"There is a benefit from having a period of stability, but clearly our responsibility is to take account of all these views to try to map out a successful way forward.

"I think we need to reflect on the experience, which is only 24 hours old.

"It would be a mistake to make any sort of knee-jerk reaction at this stage, but we do know that we need to listen, we know that we need to consult," he said.

Professional development workshops are being held across the country which will give teachers the chance to put forward their views.

"That is a real opportunity for everyone who wants to have their say and for us to listen to what they have to say," added Mr Haggerty.

BBC Scotland's Forbes McFall
"More than four in 10 pupils failed the exam"

SQA communications manager Mike Haggerty
"There is a benefit from having a period of stability"

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