Joe Cullinane

Scottish Labour Councillor for Kilwinning

Time to tackle deep rooted inequality in our education system

Joe congratulates school pupils across North Ayrshire for their exam results last week but says its time to tackle the deep rooted inequality that still exists in our education system.


Last Tuesday young people across North Ayrshire would have woke up to check their email inboxes and open one of the most important emails that they are ever likely to receive. The way exam results are delivered to pupils may have changed with the times but the nerves felt by those pupils will be no different. Quite literally these results can shape a young persons adult life.
I am delighted that early analysis shows that exam results in North Ayrshire are up on every indicator compared to last year. This is a real vindication of the hard work put in by pupils and staff over the last school year and they deserve a huge amount of credit.
It is an even greater achievement when you take into account some of the teething problems experienced in the transition to the Curriculum for Excellence.
Parents raised concerns that their kids were being used as ‘guinea pigs’ for the new system whilst teachers union the EIS conducted a survey of its members which showed that the vast majority of teachers were concerned that a lack of support from Central and Local Government meant they weren’t prepared to deliver it.
We also know that last year, the first under the new system, there were real issues, one example being a whole Art class at one North Ayrshire school not completing enough assessed work during the school year to pass the exam.
The results last week hopefully show that some of teething problems may have been resolved but some clearly still exist.
This years big controversy was the Higher Maths exam which pupils complained was too difficult, with thousands signing a petition against its difficulty. In recent weeks the Scottish Government had dismissed these concerns and accused political opponents of scaremongering for raising the pupils concerns. However, the SQA have now confirmed that the exam was indeed too difficult and the pass mark was subsequently lowered to 33.8%.
Higher’s are the gold standard of Scottish exams and we need to be confident that they are fair and consistent. Unfortunately, with the difficulty of the Maths exam, this year that’s not been the case, with the pass mark for some subjects being almost double that of Maths. If we are to retain confidence in our exam system then this can’t afford to happen again, young people’s futures are too important for that. It calls for a proper investigation into this years problems.
It must also be said that, despite the good performance and hard work of pupils this year, our education system still retains a fundamental inequality at its core.
When North Ayrshire Council publishes a thorough analyse of this years results there is one thing that is almost guaranteed – Largs Academy pupils will have performed significantly better than pupils at the other schools in North Ayrshire. The disparity between Largs Academy and the rest is not a reflection on the quality of teaching on offer or indeed the ability of the pupils themselves but rather that, in 21st century Scotland, a young person’s background still has a huge impact on their chances of achieving the highest possible exam results.
Education has the ability to break down inequality, but we first of all need to break down the inequality within our education system. We need a strategy to tackle the deep rooted inequality that exists and reduce the attainment gap which I believe is missing from our current education policy. Curriculum for Excellence, for example, was meant to ensure that we got the basics rights, however in its first year literacy and numeracy amongst both primary and secondary pupils fell. That’s a very worrying sign.
In addition a new appeal system was introduced alongside the new exam system. Unfortunately, its been a regressive change. No longer can a pupils work throughout the school year be used to appeal a poor exam performance, instead their exam paper can only be remarked. There are a number of reasons why a pupil may not perform as well as expected during an exam and the appeal changes have added increased pressure onto our school pupils to perform on the day at exams.
Furthermore, a fee has been introduced for pupils to request a remark. This has been a deeply unfair change as parents of private school pupils can pay for their children to have a second chance with an appeal whilst parents of state school pupils don’t have this option.
Combined these appeal changes saw the number of exam appeals submitted in North Ayrshire last year fall by around 75% on the previous year, a real concern as a successful exam appeal can be difference between a young person securing the university or college place of their choice or not.
Once again, well done to all those who achieved the results they wanted. For those that didn’t don’t worry, there are plenty of options available that will help you achieve your goals. For advice please call the Skills Development Scotland exam results helpline on 0800 100 8000.


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