Socialist Worker

Sack the man who failed us all

Issue No. 1713

Political crisis in Scotland

Sack the man who failed us all

CHAOS OVER school exam results in Scotland has grown into the biggest political crisis since the Scottish Parliament was formed over a year ago. The clamour is growing for education minister Sam Galbraith to resign-but Tony Blair backed him publicly on a visit to Scotland last week.

Tens of thousands of school students face the trauma of not knowing whether their exam results are correct. Some have lost out on university places. The crisis spread last week to include the Standard grade exam, which is equivalent to GCSEs in England and Wales.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, which is responsible for school exams, admitted that 4,700 pupils must have their Standard grade results rechecked because they are inaccurate or incomplete. Many more students could be affected.

"It's absolutely terrible," Simon Picker, a student at Mearns Castle School in Glasgow, told Socialist Worker. "I've just done my Standard grades. The exams were stressful enough. Now me and thousands of other students are being told our grades might be marked down. Others may have been given worse results than they actually got. So people are not sure if they are now in the right classes for studying for Higher grade exams. How can anyone get motivated if they think they may be moved onto a different course in a couple of months? There's so much confusion already. The introductory session for Higher history has taken place four times because people are being swapped between classes. Some students will just give up in the chaos. The government tells us that exams are the be all and end all of education. Then we are mucked around like this. People are questioning the whole system. No one accepts the excuses from the education minister, Sam Galbraith. He should be sacked for what he has done."

Simon collected signatures on a petition on Friday of last week calling for Galbraith to go. "I got a great response," he said. "I filled up a petition sheet in no time."

Maureen Watson, a teacher in North Lanarkshire, got over 100 signatures in the first few days of term from teachers wanting Galbraith sacked. "This goes right to the heart of education," she told Socialist Worker. "Teachers warned about the problems of introducing the new Higher Still exam with so little preparation. The government slated us in the press. Now we have been proved right. That comes as little comfort because it is our students who have suffered. Teachers have been blamed for the problems in schools. We have felt increasingly ground down. Now we have a chance to unite with parents and school students to ensure the blame lies where it belongs-with the Scottish Executive and Sam Galbraith."

Stephen Gildea, a student at Dumbarton Academy, agrees. He told Socialist Worker, "It's been a disaster. Putting young people through this is so unfair. I want to see the politicians take some responsibility. Everyone hopes the same mess won't happen next year. But who can be sure of that? I've lost faith in the whole system."

The same message is coming from school students, their teachers and parents across Scotland. A group of students at Hillhead High School in Glasgow spoke for many more when they said, "We've done alright in the exams. But what about those who haven't? What about those who have got the wrong results? It's about time young people were listened to and not just told what to do."

Going lower still

THE EXAM chaos is down to the government's obsession with gimmicky education policies, greater testing, and ignoring the views of teachers. Galbraith and his predecessor, Helen Liddle, imposed the new Higher Still exam, despite warnings from teachers.

It is a bureaucratic nightmare. "Students have to sit internal assessments," Ronnie Alexander, a teacher from West Dumbartonshire, told Socialist Worker.

"That takes up weeks of teaching time. But the internal assessments do not count to the final grade. That depends on the final exams. If students fail the assessments and their resits, they fail the course. If they pass them they can still fail the course. It is the most incredible waste of time. A student doing four or five Highers will have to do 40 to 50 internal assessments."

Then the exam authority, which was formed from a merger of two other exam and qualifications boards, refused to provide the resources to cope with the flood of information. It halved the amount per exam script paid to markers and cut the time available from three to two weeks.

"The appeals process is going to go on for months," says Ronnie Alexander. "It means teachers are now spending precious teaching time on trying to clear up the mess the authorities have created for last year's students." Yet the Scottish Executive is pushing even more changes to the exam system, with the introduction of the Advanced Higher.

It is also threatening to impose an enormous attack on teachers' conditions, known as the McCrone proposals. A special conference of the EIS union in Dundee on 30 September will discuss McCrone.

Teachers, school students and parents plan a lobby to demand that the union's leaders stand up to New Labour and defend the education system.

What's happened to the 'new democracy'?

THE SHEER arrogance of Sam Galbraith and the Scottish Executive is breathtaking. Three senior officials in the Scottish Qualifications Authority had been forced to resign by the beginning of this week. Galbraith was refusing to quit. He even had the cheek to say last week that he "shared the anger of pupils" at the exams fiasco.

New Labour is fond of lecturing working people about accepting responsibility. But the Scottish Executive, a coalition between New Labour and the Liberal Democrats, is rallying behind Galbraith. Incredibly, Galbraith was to be allowed 30 minutes to make a statement to the Scottish Parliament this week while MSPs were to get only 15 minutes to question him.

That has added to growing cynicism with the parliament, shared now even by political commentators who talked of a "new, more democratic politics" when it was set up. Tom Brown is the leading political commentator for the pro-Labour Daily Record. He wrote on Thursday of last week, "Devolution was supposed to bring government closer to the Scottish people and make ministers more accountable. The parliament has become a rubber-stamp assembly of lickspittles and lackeys who conspire to give the executive an easy time."

He went on to warn that if MSPs did not disrupt proceedings to grill Galbraith then "they will be betraying the whole idea of devolution".

Too much to do for the markers

"I HAVE been teaching for 20 years and marking scripts for about ten, but I have never experienced anything like this in my life. The authorities must not be allowed to play the exam crisis down. I was asked to do some control checks on scripts. Sacks were here, there and everywhere, with misplaced packets of music papers. Everyone was working so hard but they were at their wits' end. On the second to last day of term, when all the exam scripts were meant to have been returned, I was asked to take 100 extra scripts. I had already marked 250. Some of the numbers that teachers were marking were horrendous-up to 2,000 in French. I have a horrible feeling it will be worse next year."

  • LYN ROBINSON, principal physics teacher, Williamwood High, Glasgow

Join the campaign

  • Circulate petitions at work, in schools and in your locality demanding that Galbraith is sacked.
  • Pass a motion at your union branch or community organisations for Galbraith to go and for the EIS teachers' union to call a demonstration over the exams crisis.
  • Pass copies of petitions to local schools. Let teachers know how many other people want Galbraith to go.

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Article information

Sat 9 Sep 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1713
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