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Exams czar to crack down on SQA sloth

David Henderson and Neil Munro report on the latest exchanges as Holyrood continues to probe the exams fiasco

MINISTERS want a commissioner to monitor a revamped Scottish Qualifications Authority and ensure there is no repeat of the August 10 results nightmare.

Both Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, and Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, told MSPs on Wednesday that there had to be fundamental changes to the organisation and governance of the SQA but repeated their protestation that they could have done nothing more to avert the disaster, even after the scale of the problems emerged on June 26.

Members of the lifelong learning committee failed to land any knock-out blows on either minister only two weeks after John Swinney, the committee's former convener and now SNP leader, promised a "thrashing" for Mr McLeish.

The ministers revealed that the SQA was unlikely to be scrapped but would be radically reformed. "If a broom needs to sweep clean through this organisation, it will," Mr McLeish pledged.

He backed an independent examination authority not corrupted by government but more answerable to the Parliament through the establishment of a commissioner. This could happen "sooner rather than later".

Mr McLeish said the commissioner, "or some other organisation", would have to examine quality assurance, check on the authority's systems and work, and report directly to ministers and MSPs.

Earlier, Mr Galbraith hd interjected: "Saints preserve us from another body."

Mr McLeish said he was not convinced the present set-up provided "the sharpest possible transparency and accountability", hence his anger and frustration.He added: "There has to be accountability but the interesting point about the SQA, and there was a debate prior to 1996 (before it was established), is that it does both accreditation and awarding. That's not the situation in England.

"It seems to me that there has

to be something which will reassure the public, education stakeholders and parliament that there is probity and efficiency. I suspect what we are looking at is possibly some quality control mechanism that need not be lodged within

the SQA."

He added: "We might need to consider some intermediary or commissioner, or some new organisation or in popular sound-bite terms an examinations czar to make sure that quality assurance, management and data systems are properly focused."

Mr McLeish, the minister with ultimate responsibility for the SQA, said that it had failed in risk management, leadership, and management information and data processing. But Bill Morton, acting chief executive, was working urgently to address these and other issues. "He's a tough guy and big sticks are being wielded," Mr McLeish said.

Mr Galbraith described the SQA as "a huge unwieldy body" but dismissed suggestions that sacking the board and its chairman would have solved any immediate problems.

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