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Exam results czar idea gains support

During the course of this week's parliamentary inquiry, calls were made for a radical shake-up of the SQA, Neil Munro reports

THREE influential educational voices were added to what appears to be an emerging political consensus that an independent regulatory body is necessary to supervise the Scottish Qualifications Authority alongside a beefed-up SQA board.

The idea of an intermediary to give symbolic reassurance that quality control had been reasserted came amidst warnings that next year's exams could also be heading for trouble unless radical changes are made.

The idea of an exams "czar" has already been promoted by ministers and support came in evidence to the parliamentary education committee inquiry from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the Association of Director of Education in Scotland, and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

UCAS pointed out that the quality of the exam awarding bodies in England and Wales is the responsibility of a separate agency. In Northern Ireland as in Scotland, by contrast, there was no such body and "it may be no coincidence" that wrong results were issued there on two separate occasions.

Mary Mulligan, chair of the education committee, said she was "not yet reassured" that Scotland would not be facing the same exam difficulties next year. The committee would therefore be recalling Bill Morton, the SQA's interim chief executive.

Sam Galbraith will give evidence on Monday of his experience as Education Minister.

Mrs Mulligan's comments came after evidence from Victoria McDuff, the head girl at St Modan's High in Stirling. She said her school was still experiencing hitche such as delays in the arrival of materials and course changes.

Keir Bloomer, the president of ADES, told the MSPs that there could be another crisis next year if there are only minimal changes, "which the Scottish examination system will not readily survive".

Michael O'Neill, past ADES president, said that "if the level of assessment data required is not simplified, the potential exists for a repeat performance next year".

The directorate, in contrast to the evidence from the Higher Still planners (see opposite), pinned the blame for much of the trouble on the design of the Higher Still programme, which generated demands for excessive assessment data in a formalised way. Mr Bloomer described much of the required information as "not needed, not understood and intrinsically worthless".

The view from ADES and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities was that, while there was considerable consultation over Higher Still, it centred on technical matters of implementation.

The programme's design and its fundamental principles had not been subject to consultation, particularly on assessment. The Higher Still Development Unit was responsible for the design, Mr. Bloomer said, and it was "significantly managed" by HMI.

He reiterated the familiar ADES view that the inspectorate's essential role as the chief arbiters of quality assurance in education was being "compromised" by its role in policy development.

Mr Bloomer said directors of education still supported the fundamental principles of Higher Still, which meant they backed a greater range of courses and the development of a more coherent national qualifications framework.

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