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Iain Maciver: Government and SQA were well wide of the mark with their pandemic-era exams

An urban legend from the 1980s has it that a Stornoway man, frustrated at his lack of prowess while in the exam room, decided to
eat his entire English paper
An urban legend from the 1980s has it that a Stornoway man, frustrated at his lack of prowess while in the exam room, decided to eat his entire English paper

Poor John Swinney.

Poor Nicola.

They hadn’t done their homework about what happens if you have to give pupils an exam mark when there has been no exam to mark.

Their basic idea was spot-on. Leave it all to the teachers who’ve had nothing else to do for the last few months except stay at home and watch CBeebies.

OK, maybe they had some work to do from home but it was over video links. It’s not real work when you have Instagram minimised at the bottom of the screen, is it?

OK, maybe I will stay clear of all the teachers I know for the next wee while.

But before making amends yesterday and upgrading results based on teachers’ estimates, the Scottish Government was blaming it all on dodgy algorithms.

Like when social media giants say they are not controlling what adverts you see because it’s done by algorithms.

What are they, these rhythms that cause everything that’s going wrong in the world?

A geek explains they are sets of rules in computer applications to simplify things by automating processes so an operator doesn’t have to think. Ideal for politicians then.

It is a conditional statement, known as an IFTTT. As well as being the noise many students had made when opening their results, that stands for If This, Then This.

He said a timer in a toaster is a perfect IFTTT.

Put in your slice and depending on how it’s set, when it reaches the stated IF condition, for example, three minutes, it does This, which is pop up the bread.

Iain Maciver

We blame the toaster if the toast is burned, although we set the timer.

Now Mr Swinney and the Scottish Qualifications Authority were blaming the algorithms, but not that they set and approved them. I smell smoky soot.

It has been described as a burach.

I see that official parliamentary reports recognise that Gaelic word for happenings that descend into being a tad shambolic.

Mike Russell, as the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, introduced the term clusterburach to a Brexit debate in 2018. That’s just too much. That gives me clusterphobia.

Everyone in that parliament building must have either already known what clusterburach meant or were able to work it out in an instant. Maybe they had occasion to hear its use before – probably many times.

Or heard something they didn’t understand but wouldn’t risk showing themselves up by putting their hand up and saying: “Please sir, what was the cabinet secretary on about?”

Which is similar to what I thought when Calum from Lochs told me he was giving up working as a joiner.

He was very good – probably a better cabinetmaker than Nicola Sturgeon. Calum tells me he is now studying for his new career in pest control.

Ah, a job in parliament? He doesn’t laugh but says he will be doing it in Aberdeen. Plenty pests there. You’ll find the worst ones in the pubs, ignoring social distancing.

Calum was getting ready to revise for his practical exam in pest control. So I said: “You’d better hurry home then.

I’m sure you’ll be up all night swatting.” He didn’t get that joke either. He got the job though.

Who is going to get the job of being Boris Johnson’s landlord or landlady? He’s coming to Scotland on holiday with partner Carrie Symonds, and wee Wilfred.

David Cameron used to slip over to Jura with wife Samantha for a break but I’m not sure they are pally enough to let Borrie and babby stay.

I do hope Boris enjoys his break. I hope the same for everyone coming north for a staycation – even though I hate that made-up word.

The weather has been fantastic. So much so that it has confused certain people. Iain Macleod, the bus driver from Tong, was in Spar the other day.

He noticed the rolls for his lunch were very dark. He wondered loudly why bakers no longer seemed to know how to bake rolls properly. Then he realised he still had his sunglasses on.

Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney are not the only ones to have had problems with the outcome of exams.

There is an urban legend circulating on this island about a character in Stornoway who did not do as well as he wished in his O Levels back in the 1980s.

Having got three passes in fourth year, he was having a final stab at English which he needed to secure the chance of a job at the local authority.

When the time was up, he had no exam paper to hand to the invigilator. He claimed he’d lost it.

Outside the assembly hall, his mates asked what happened to his English exam paper. He said: “I ate it.” Everyone was shocked to hear that.

Why? He looked at them slyly and said: “I really wanted to pass English but that paper was far too difficult for me.

“I hardly knew any of the answers. That’s why I ate it.

“I may not get a certificate for my wall but very soon I will be able to say hand on heart that I passed that exam.”

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