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Bid to defuse exam debacle

MINISTERS have moved sharply to head off a repeat of last session's exams debacle by convening a small, high-powered group to respond to rising concerns about data-handling problems.

They appear to have taken on board the message from directors of education and parents that next summer's diet could be similarly affected without more radical action on the reporting of the internally-assessed units in Higher Still taken over one year.

The first meeting of the off-shoot from the Higher Still liaison group was due to take place yesterday. Teachers, colleges, directors and parents were represented, along with the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The group was facing three options. The first was the proposal from the SQA to bring forward to May 1 the deadline for reporting unit assessments to the authority. This would leave a full two weeks before the first external exams.

It has already been accepted that schools need only submit one batch of information on unit passes

More radical yet is the suggestion, first submitted by Michael O'Neill, director in North Lanarkshire, that schools should only submit information on those who fail or withdraw from the units. This would reduce the numbers dramatically.

The third option, proposed by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, is that no unit assessment information is passed over to the SQA but is held by the school.

Judith Gillespie, SPTC development manager, said: "I'm very pleased concerns are being taken seriously. The amount of data handling has to be simplified, otherwise they're going to be up the creek.

"This is not a review of internal assessment but some practical steps to look at data handling."

She estimates that without streamlining an extra half million pieces of data will flood the already overburdened system. Every Advanced Higher would go up from one piece of data entry to four, while other new Higher and Intermediate courses would add to the four million pieces of data last session.

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