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Exam howlers leave SQA vowing it must do better

THE 0.25 per cent of students at Standard grade and Higher who yesterday (Thursday) did not receive their full examination results should not overshadow the substantial success in implementing the first full year of post-16 reforms, Ron Tuck, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, has insisted.

Up to 1,500 of the 140,000 candidates are estimated to have been affected by data collection problems caused by glitches in a new computer system and by difficulties in assembling final information on end of unit assessments in the new Highers.

Teachers and school administrators, along with SQA staff, worked beyond normal duties during the summer holidays but for the first time in the history of Scotland's public examinations system results on the official release day were incomplete.

Mr Tuck gave assurances that the missing information would be rectified within days and revised certificates issued later. "The problems are small-scale, quickly fixable but obviously regrettable," he admitted.

In some 400 cases internally assessed course marks are missing. "These problems have not arisen because schools have not sent us the data but because of data processing problems at our end, of the kind that has become normal with major new IT systems. The problems arise from introducing an IT system within too short a time-scale," Mr Tuck confessed.

At Higher grade, several hundred students may also be missing unit results. "We had huge problems with missing data earlier in the summer and we are very grateful to everyone in schools and colleges. We were set a really major challengewith new qualifications, new administration and new IT and it's inherently a more flexible system that has to cope with far bigger volumes of data and data matching is more complex," Mr Tuck said.

He continued: "I still do not think this should overshadow the fact that Higher Still has been implemented this year and that thousands of students have taken interesting new courses that were not available before. Highers in care, mechatronics, philosophy and psychology all had reasonable uptake. We also had 35,000 students taking Intermediate 1 and II and lots of positive feedback from parents about the benefits of Higher Still and from pupils saying the end of unit assessment was beneficial to them."

"I am sure the whole position will feel very different this time next year," the chief executive said, drawing a veil over his annus horriblis. Meanwhile comparisons were almost impossible.

"We have moved from a sudden death system to one where it is difficult to take a snapshot of a pass rate," Mr Tuck said. "Supposing a candidate fails a Higher by

2-3 per cent and therefore under the fallback rule gets a compensatory Intermediate II. Are they included as a failure at Higher or a pass at Intermediate II?"

Leader, page 8 THE ACCESS EFFECT

* Six out of 10 young adults now go to college and university.

* In 1998-99, 64 per cent of

16 to 21-year-olds entered part or full-time education, compared with 42 per cent 10 years ago.

* The biggest expansion is among 21-year-olds whose participation rate in full-time courses has risen from 14 per cent to 34 per cent.

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