Readers' Letters: A simple way to assess pupils without exams

While agreeing with Cameron Wyllie's argument against the cancellation of the Higher and Advanced Higher exams, (Thursday) I'd like also to point out that simple school attendance figures, unlike dodgy algorithms, could provide a clear measurement of every pupil's Covid related disadvantage or handicap. Taken alongside exam results these could be utilised to provide a fairer final grade for all candidates.

If exams are cancelled, how should pupils be judged?
If exams are cancelled, how should pupils be judged?

It does seem extraordinary, and indeed, by definition, undemocratic that the whole of the once revered Scottish Examination system should grind to a halt in the perceived interest of (hopefully still) a minority of “disadvantaged” pupils. For the majority, while constituting a significant rite of passage, exams provide a valuable focus and a target for learning, and at the end of the process reasonably objective feedback on their academic ability. Now, as a result of Mr Swinney's precipitate action, some, particularly those who have missed two years of exams, will be seeking potential employers and university courses with at best a hazy notion of their own capabilities.

A generous spirit, Mr Wyllie believes that Mr Swinney has been swayed by "the fine folk at Education Scotland". I would contend he has been harking too much to those at SNP central office who seek to clear the decks of all possibly contentious issues before May.

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John Wood, The Croft, St Boswells

Set fair rules

Gill Turner suggests (Letters, December 15) I "prefer the tyranny of the numerical minority." Nothing in my letter of the previous day could be interpreted to give this meaning. One of my arguments for a written constitution was to provide a sound basis on which to hold a referendum with rules and good practice. It is extremely important that Scotland does not follow Westminster's example whereby politicians made decisions on the rules for a referendum and agreed that the referendum be decided by a simple majority. This was in spite of advice to the contrary.

I am happy for a referendum to take place with rules clearly defined [with legal advice] in a written constitution and if two thirds of the votes cast are in favour I will accept the result. This is how a fair and democratic result will be achieved and will help to avoid manipulation of our constitutional affairs by politicians.

C Scott, Mortonhall Road, Edinburgh

Who’s laughing?

Apart from annual sporran maintenance I am not one for nitpicking, but my response to Gill Turner (Letters, yesterday) is that a minority of 47 per cent is bigger than one of 37 per cent. So there.I’m sure Ms Turner would also accept that those who abstained from voting in 2014 were more content with the status quo than not, and that a total of 63 per cent of the electorate were indeed, by action or default, not in favour of breaking up the Union.As for last laughs, polling just before the Referendum had the Yes camp ahead but I’ve been chortling for over six years now!Andrew Kemp, Mossbank, Rosyth


I read with interest tinged with disbelief, the headline in yesterday's paper stating that support for independence has surged to a record high. By coincidence your Letters to the Editor column featured an excellent letter from reader Stuart Stephen. It set out very clearly the stark financial future that we as a country would face if we ever embraced independence. It’s just a pity that a copy of this letter could not be sent to every Nationalist household.

As we approach January and Burn's anniversary the phrase " facts are chiels that winna ding" comes to mind.

Hugh T Grant, Scorguie Gardens, Inverness

Drugs blame

Jane Lax (Letters, December 17) blames the Scottish Government for Scotland’s high drug death rate. A closer look reveals three things. First, the Scottish Government wants to treat drug use as a public health issue, whereas the UK Government insists on treating it as a criminal justice matter. In November 2019 the cross-party Scottish Affairs Committee called for re-thinking drugs policy, including decriminalising drugs for personal use, introducing safe consumption rooms and making drug deaths a public health emergency. The UK government rejected this in favour of continuing the failed “war on drugs” approach. The Home Office blocked an application for a safe consumption facility in Glasgow, despite evidence from Australia and Denmark that they have reduced drug-related deaths and the transfer of blood-borne viruses, improved access to primary care and have not caused a rise in drug use or local crime.

Second, UK economic policies in the 1980s contributed to the current crisis. Drug deaths in Scotland are disproportionately among older drug users who began using heroin in the Eighties and Nineties under Tory and New Labour economic policies that failed to invest in communities, and drug policies that treated drug users as criminals. Older drug addicts are more susceptible to respiratory and liver diseases and blood-borne viruses, increasing their chances of premature death. Last year, more than two thirds of drug-related deaths were aged between 35 and 54.

Third, the Scottish Government is doing its best to address the problem within UK Government constraints. It exceeded its standard that 90 per cent of people referred for drug treatment should wait no longer than 3 weeks. Between July and September 2019, 95 per cent waited 3 weeks or less. Rather than trying to score political points over preventable deaths, pursuing an evidence-based drugs policy would reduce deaths not only in Scotland but throughout the UK.

Leah Gunn Barrett, Merchiston Crescent, Edinburgh

Blinkered view

Kenny MacAskill tells the moving story of a mother whose son is struggling with the “demons” of drug dependence (Perspective, yesterday). He refers to new drug death figures as “once again catastrophic” and says she seeks to “get the scarce help that’s available to save her boy.”

Mr MacAskill’s party have been in power for 13 years, yet nowhere does he accept SNP culpability for their failure to tackle Scotland’s shame. Significantly, the figures are much worse than England’s. Yet, just like the incompetence displayed by “Prestwick Airport, Ferguson Marine, BiFab, Edinburgh Children’s Hospital, the Named Persons Scheme, the Hate Crime Bill” as listed by Jim Houston (Letters, same day), it is glossed over. Instead he devotes the bulk of his column to the mechanics of by-passing Westminster to hold a second Scottish Referendum. Nowhere, though, does he hint at an answer to Scotland’s current £15 billion spending deficit and the predicted economic catastrophe awaiting an independent Scotland.

Kit Fraser, Belhaven High Street, Dunbar

On yer bike?

Your leader yesterday asks us to follow the examples of Denmark and the Netherlands in getting on our bikes. The only problem with using these countries as examples is that their geography is the reason for their huge cycling population. They are flat countries, allowing anyone to cycle with relative ease. Scotland is not a flat country. The names "Scottish Highlands" and "Southern Uplands" are a clue. Edinburgh is built on seven hills, Glasgow has steep river banks along the Clyde and Dundee is on a big hill above the Firth of Tay so cycling in these cities is not the simple exercise that the Dutch and the Danes enjoy. By all means encourage us, but let's be realistic!

Brian Bannatyne Scott, Murrayfield Drive, Edinburgh

Crisis coming

The collapse of Burntisland Fabrications in Fife has too quickly become yesterday’s news yet the Scottish Government, which was a minority shareholder, must get a better grip on what matters for Scotland’s economy. When skilled workers who had just lost their livelihoods were reported as saying they would have to find work in London or the Far East and China it hardly promises a brighter future for Scotland, whether independent or not. So much for wind power when the construction and manufacture of production is reliant on foreign companies and workers. The one obvious area of jobs growth in Scotland seems Scottish Government public relations and its quangos. As time goes by a shrinking taxpayer base, whether Scotland is independent or not, will be unable to pick up the tabs.

Jim Craigen, Downie Grove, Edinburgh

Speak softly

I disagree with Aidan Smith about the helpfulness of swearing and bad language (Perspective, 15 December). Some people may indeed find that using such language helps to relieve stress and tension, but to me it shows a lack of self control. Sometimes it shows a pathetic attempt to defy what are regarded as outdated conventions, but more often it becomes an unthinking habit. If it is done in private that’s up to the people involved, but I object to such language becoming a routine part of public discourse. It demeans the people involved and the subject dealt with.

Most of our swear words are either blasphemous, sexual or scatological in origin. “Bloody”, apparently, is a corruption of a medieval oath, “By our Lady”. Current use of the f-word, originally an ordinary Anglo-Saxon word for the sex act, shows a degrading attitude to the precious gift of sexual intercourse. Other words show a demeaning attitude to women.

I find such language offensive and ask people to avoid it in my hearing. Usually people comply readily. Most people are quite capable of controlling their language in appropriate circumstances. I am all for freedom of speech, but public discourse should be done respectfully, even when expressing strong disagreement. It is time leaders and the media set an example.

(Rev Dr) Donald M MacDonald, Blackford Avenue, Edinburgh

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