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Exam scripts won't go back

The exam system is set for three more years of uncertainty as the SQA struggles to get it right, reports Neil Munro

THE Education Minister has rejected calls for the return of exam scripts to schools in cases where appeals have been unsuccessful - at least for this year.

This was recommended by the parliamentary education committee's inquiry last week to restore credibility where schools continue to dispute exam appeals. Its report suggested this might also be done for future years, which Jack McConnell has not ruled out.

Continuing doubts over the reliability of the SQA's handling of the exams, however, have forced action to reassure pupils. Scripts are to be examined by specialist subject teams.

Mr McConnell said in a parliamentary debate on Wednesday that this should provide an assurance of independent scrutiny.

The move follows an announcement by Cameron Fyfe, the Glasgow-based solicitor, who said he intended suing the SQA on behalf of 36 candidates whose appeals were rejected. Mr Fyfe believes the SQA may be contravening the European Convention on Human Rights, now part of Scots law, because it acts as judge and jury.

Under the former Scottish Examination Board, appeals which were disputed by candidates and supported by their school went to the principal examiner for adjudication. If the school and board continued to be at odd, the case was sent for a final decision to the director.

In his parliamentary statement Mr McConnell said that disputed appeals, in the case of Highers only, would be scrutinised by subject experts in the first instance. They would either confirm or deny the outcome of the appeal and then produce a report for the school or college explaining its decision. If the experts disagree with the appeal result, the case will be independently adjudicated.

But the setting up of the appeals panels also means that this summer's exam results will not finally be cleared up until early in the new year, rather than December 31 as the SQA had promised. It has set up a dedicated team to complete this work.

While Mr McConnell believes schools and candidates need reassurance on the outcome of appeals, a report by the Association of Directors of Education, published on Wednesday, concludes that the appeals process was on the whole "thorough, rigorous and consistent".

Mr McConnell's reluctance to make any fundamental changes this year will have been partly influenced by the divided views on returning scripts to schools. While some parents and politicians support such a move, heads, directors of education and unions have still to be convinced.

But Bill Morton, the SQA's interim chief executive, believes that scripts will eventually be handed back.

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