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Lib Dems train their sights on the SQA

THE minister in charge of the watchdog committee overseeing the Scottish Qualifications Authority's conduct of this summer's exams has made a direct appeal to parents and pupils to publicise problems as they arise.

Nicol Stephen, Deputy Minister for Education, told the Scottish Liberal Democrats in Pitlochry: "The more people that tell us about the problems the better."

Mr Stephen encouraged them to use the helpline that was opened last week."Candidates and their parents need to feel confident that their efforts will be properly awarded."

He made a renewed appeal for teachers to come forward to act as markers. The SQA is still more than 1,000 short of its target of 8,800 markers.

The Liberal Democrats' education debate was dominated by concerns about th SQA. Hugh O'Donnell, a further education lecturer who fought last December's by-election in Falkirk West, said: "Nothing convinces me that the SQA is getting it right. The silence of the HMI now is deafening."

Ian Jenkins, a member of the Scottish Parliament's education committee, said he understood why Bill Morton, SQA chief executive, felt unable to give a cast-iron guarantee that there would be no repetition of last year's debacle when he gave evidence to the committee, but the "scare stories" going around were worrying for pupils.

Mr Jenkins predicted that problems will appear again this year but because people are on the lookout for them they can be identified and tackled."The education system now has firefighters who can get in there," he said.

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