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Full of confidence, because you have to be

Teachers are hopeful all is going well as another crisis would be too damaging, writes Raymond Ross.

Trying to assess the Scottish Qualifications Authority's performance to date and to predict what will happen with this year's exam results may well be a form of mysticism.

Perhaps the Dark Night of the Soul is too grand a metaphor for contemplating matters administrative and corrective. But faced with the Cloud of Unknowing, the hard-pressed SQA co-ordinator might well feel they have to make the necessary leap of faith.

"I'm confident things will work out," says Judith O'Beirne, SQA co-ordinator at Hillhead High school in Glasgow. "I'm confident because you have to be.

"The exams are running smoothly and I believe the SQA are doing their utmost to make sure that last year's shambles is not repeated this year."

Is this confidence for confidence's sake or are there grounds for such optimism?

"I would say we are all hopeful simply because a repeat of last year would be very, very damaging," she says.

"As far as marking and the turnaround of scripts go, we are hopeful. We have teachers here who are being released to mark.

"With regard to computer errors, the fallback procedures seem to be working. There have been computer glitches and we've had more paper reports, more error reports to deal with this year than last. But the error repots are helpful, though the extra paperwork involved has been extremely time-consuming."

The burden of assessments is an issue which has still to be sorted out, Ms O'Beirne feels. Hillhead High met the May 31 deadline "OK" and the few well-warned candidates who didn't complete assessments by the date have been told there is now no guarantee of their results by the August deadline.

"If getting the assessments completed and returned was a long haul, it's going to be an equally long haul for the SQA and the markers now," she says. "I don't think there could be a big disaster like last year's, though naturally there are concerns about chasing markers."

Senior pupils are taking the process in their stride "in the sense that they assume it couldn't happen two years in a row", she says.

The school has only recently received the final summary of results from last year's exams. "Following all the appeals and the appeals against appeals, it has taken until now - half-way through this year's exam diet - for the final results to arrive. This is not a situation we'd like to see repeated," she says.

"The old system was extremely efficient before last year and I think the SQA are striving to achieve the old standards. You just have to say yes, they'll get it finished in time and, equally importantly, the results will be correct."

Amen to that.

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