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Lots of crossed fingers all round

As the May assessments deadline gets ever closer, apprehension is building, Raymond Ross realises.

Being optimistic and apprehensive at the same time would seem to go with the job of being an SQA co-ordinator, if the experience of Willie Cowie, assistant headteacher of Buckie High school, Moray, is anything to go by.

Mr Cowie's grounds for optimism lie in the simple fact that when this year's Standard grade estimates and assessment grade forms arrived at the school, all the names and details were correct. That may not be much ground for optimism, you might think, but last year's chaos was first signalled by the multiplicity of errors on these forms, he says.

Ground for apprehension is somewhat more extensive.

"Paperwork is still slow in coming out. Deadlines are tight and tight deadlines can cause mistakes. We're apprehensive and even SQA accounts managers are giving no guarantees. They're apprehensive too," he says.

"You have to remember that last session we were starting to send in unit assessments in November. Now they're going to get the whole shebang between now and the end of May.

"I think there will be a lot of crossed fingers in schools and at the SQA as May 31 approaches. Will they cope?" Mr Cowie's worries are rooted in the fact that there are more courses on stream this year than last and that the system might not be able to cope with course complexities

If, for example, students change from a Higher to an Intermediate course, this involves recording what they have attained so far on the Higher course, taking them out of the course and external exam and re-registering them for the Intermediate course and external exam.

"There will be millions of units for different subjects at different levels all reaching the SQA on May 31."

Meanwhile, Mr Cowie is still clearing up anomalies from last year's appeals.

"We were given confirmation of appeals and told that updated certificates would go out automatically to the pupils concerned. We know of cases - and suspect there may be a whole class - where this has not happened. So, now I have to contact ex-pupils to find out whether they have received their new certificates or not.

"Some who are now in college or university might think it doesn't matter. But it does. Later in life they might claim a certain grade which they were told they achieved but for which they have no certificated proof.

"It has to be sorted out now and no school has any way of knowing unless they contact all ex-pupils concerned.

"There seems to be a glitch between awarding appeals and sending out the certificates."

Yet Mr Cowie remains optimistic. "Why? Because I'm an optimistic person. You just have to hope and pray the system can handle the avalanche between now and the end of May."

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