The Examination Business

I’ve been critical throughout my career of the fact that the examination industry determines how the curriculum is organised in our schools, especially in secondary schools of course. It’s the assessment tail wagging the curriculum dog. Having said that, we do examinations well in this country and of all the examination bodies and systems in the world I’m sure the SQA is up there in the premier league. I have to say that because I’m still marking Intermediate 2 English Close Reading Papers – you have to request to have your name taken off the list nowadays otherwise they keep you on by default. It’s an interesting exercise if not quite money for old rope! However, no matter how efficient the system is ( I believe we have the only system in the world with an appeals process built in, or did I imagine that?) you have to ask yourself, are we really serving our young people well simply by making them better at passing exams?


The Picture of Oscar Wilde

Thanks to Clarinda for the copy of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray which I have just finished. It’s one of those books which you feel you should have read or you feel as if you have read because it is referenced so often. First published in 1890 and later used as evidence against Wilde at his Old Bailey trial in 1895, the novel was met with equal amounts of acclaim and condemnation. Consider this contemporary review from the St James’s Gazette:-

“The puzzle is that a young man of decent parts, who enjoyed (when he was at Oxford) the opportunity of associating with gentlemen, should put his name (such as it is) to so stupid and vulgar a piece of work. Let nobody read it in the hope of finding witty paradoxes or racy wickedness. The writer airs his cheap research among the garbage of the French Decadantes like any drivelling pedant, and he bores you unmercifully with his prosy rigmaroles about the beauty of the Body and the corruption of the Soul.”

So you didn’t like it then? Actually I think it’s the prosy rigmaroles which make Wilde worth reading and if you like the plays you’ll probably like this.

Creative Ironing

What a hectic week last week was. Took part in the much-anticipated (by me) interview on the Fred MacAulay show on Radio Scotland. After delusions of chatting to Fred over the course of an hour or so and eventually being offered a daily programme of my own, I actually had approximately 4 minute squeezed between a man talking about car insurance and a woman who runs her own ironing business. Now I know why the art of the soundbite is so important.  Came back to sit in on the first of a series of Inspiration Sessions at LTS run by Ewan. Taking as its starting point a truly inspirational clip of Ken Robinson presenting a twenty minute talk called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” it was the stimulus for some great discussion. I am absolutely convinced, as Robinson clearly is, that the traditional hierarchy of subjects in schools, and an outdated notion of what constitutes intelligence, is stifling creativity and halting our progress to building a curriculum fit for the 21st Century. You can read more of my thoughts on this if you follow the link to an article I wrote last year for TES.

Exam Stress

I had a phone call at the end of last week inviting me on to this Tuesday’s Fred MacAulay show on Radio Scotland.  Imagine my disappointment to learn that it was not because word had got out about the success of my Chic Murray impersonation but to talk about exam stress and how to avoid it. It’s exam season in Scotland again, and students, teachers and parents will be feeling the pressure. I was asked to provide similar advice for new teachers on Learning and Teaching Scotland’s website some time ago and what I offered then was really just a matter of common sense. The key points for me are:-

  • Preparation is everything. Draw up a study plan and stick to it
  • Eat and sleep well. Avoid fatty foods and too much sugar. Drink plenty of water and resist fizzy drinks
  • Take some exercise. Swimming, cycling or walking are probably best
  • Think long-term. Decide what your next move will be in the event of best and worst-case exam scenarios


Learning is for life.

Some stress is necessary. Otherwise we wouldn’t perform at our best.

Neither Here Nor There

One of my good friends and colleagues is moving on to pastures new this week and has invited a few of us to dinner, with the stipulation that each of us has to do a “turn” in the Scottish tradition which used to have me hiding behind the furniture as a child at Hogmanay parties. I can’t sing, I can’t dance and I can barely play a CD. However, I can read and I can appreciate a good sense of humour so after a bit of research I’m going to attempt a monologue in the style of Chic Murray, one of Scotland’s best ever comedians. One of Billy Connolly’s greatest influences, Chic was famous for his deadpan delivery and the surreal or absurdist nature of his stories. Like Groucho Marx, much of Chic’s humour hinged on the ambiguities of the English language and his delight in playing with words. “My girlfriend’s a redhead – no hair, just a redhead” could just as easily have come from the little grouch as the “Tall Droll”, Murray’s famous stage name. I suppose in the scheme of things, it’s neither here nor there whether I pull off the performance or not. But as Chic would say, if something’s neither here nor there, where the hell is it? Fortunately there is still video footage of the great man.