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Exam results climbdown

IN WHAT amounts to a public rebuke for the way the Higher Still reforms have been handled, the Education Minister moved this week to reduce the programme's complexity.

Jack McConnell announced on Wednesday that internal assessment reporting for school is to be simplified and the new-style exam certificate is to be made easier to understand. Markers' fees are also to be increased (see above).

Mr McConnell was responding to the action plan drawn up by the Scottish Qualifications Authority which was promised within a fortnight following the publication of the damning report on the authority by Deloitte amp; Touche.

As revealed in the TESS (November 3), Mr McConnell confirmed he was setting up an early warning system to alert ministers personally of any looming problems likely to affect next year's exams and ensure the Deloitte amp; Touche recommendations are being implemented.

An early warning group of between 10 and 20 members, almost as large as the "unwieldy" SQA board which was sacked, is to be chaired by Nicol Stephen, the deputy minister. It will bring on board parents and teachers, significantly including classroom and principal teachers - a ministerial signal admitting that the profession has not been as fully involved in past reforms as it should have been. Other members will be drawn from the ranks of headteachers, secondary pupils, education authorities, further education colleges and employers.

The changes to internal assessment arrangements will be preceded by a feasibility study, another indication that ministers have learned lessons from the SQA debacle and are treading warily in implementing new systems before they are adequately tested. Mr McConnell said he wanted theSQA "to carry out rigorous checks to ensure that this system will work". The results of the study will be known within a few weeks.

In a parliamentary written answer announcing the changes to internal assessment, Mr McConnell said the simplification would involve:

schools sending the SQA the details of units for which they wished candidates to be entered and the SQA confirming these in early May;

schools recording the results of unit assessments on their own systems as at present;

schools advising the SQA by May 31 of any units which pupils failed, had their results deferred or withdrawn altogether;

the SQA treating all other unit results as a pass.

This system for making the flow of assessment data in and out of the SQA more manageable is broadly in line with suggestions from the Association of Directors of Education and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, and the solution was agreed by the Higher Still assessment group at its meeting last Thursday. Gordon Mackenzie, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said the assessment changes were "a very sensible step forward".

Mr McConnell said he recognised that FE colleges had different requirements because of their greater reliance on internal assessment, and he said the SQA would discuss with the colleges their data-handling preferences.

The Minister's statement also confirmed that the new Scottish Qualifications Certificate is to be made easier to understand for next year's round of exams, particularly the reporting on core skills. Again, SQA proposals will be preceded by consultation.

The Minister's moves received a "guarded welcome" from Michael Russell, the SNP's education spokesman.

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