Exams all-clear as task force meets

Neil Munro

THE exams czar has put his head firmly above the parapet and declared his confidence publicly for the first time that there will be no repeat of last year's fiasco.

In an interview with The TES Scotland, Colin MacLean said the Scottish Qualifications Authority was still pursuing outstanding or incomplete data about both candidates and results but the difference this year is that "we know what we don't know".

Mr MacLean said: "There are still a very small number of queries which the SQA is pursuing, but they are reducing every day and are nowhere near the scale of what happened last year." The SQAsaid today (Friday) that "99 per cent of data is secure and ready to go".

Meanwhile the task group set up by the Education Minister under Mr MacLean's chairmanship to simplify unit and course assessment met for the first time today. The Scottish Executive is anxious to demonstrate it is getting down to business, given that the Educational Institute of Scotland is officially committed to a boycott of internal assessment.

Mr MacLean said: "The amount of incomplete data will not be reduced to zero by August 14 because every piece of missing or even suspicious information is being meticulously followed up by the SQA. But this year we know what the queries are, which pupils are affected and very largely what their results ought to be once the information which the schools have submitted has been double-checked."

Examples of data being checked are where no script has been returned by a school for pupils entered for the exam, where a pupil may have been absent and confirmation is required and where candidates appear to have sat one paper in a subject but not the other. Some pupils taking National Qualifications even sat exams at two levels, Mr MacLean revealed and added:

"Strange things happen when you've got 150,000 candidates."

The positive message to date is that:

* All marking has been completed.

* All scripts have been checked.

* All external marks, internally assessed marks for folios and project work and the results of all unit assessments have been entered into the SQA's database.

* Pass marks have all been set.

* Special circumstances affecting candidates' performance have been dealt with.

* All papers have been "finalised", which involves extra checks on scripts where markers were found to have been severe, lenient or inconsistent.

* "Concordance" procedures, abandoned for Higher Still courses last year, have been run this year to make sure schools' estimates are not out of line with achieved grades.

The Universities' and Colleges' Admissions Service has been told to expect results by August 7.

Despite his upbeat report, Mr MacLean concedes that the system cannot cope indefinitely with demands being placed on staff in schools, colleges and the SQA. Today's task group meeting is intended to start the process of reducing the assessment burdens so that any changes, as Mr MacLean put it, "pass the test of maximising the reliability of information while minimising the effort".

Among the key issues on the agenda for today's meeting will be improvements to the transfer of data between exam centres and the SQA, and to the recruitment of markers.

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Neil Munro

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