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Marking the SQA

IT WAS not a good idea to introduce complex new examinations at the same time as a new computer system. But the Scottish Qualifications Authority had no choice. It had to do what the Executive wanted in terms of an already delayed course and assessment innovation. And the updating of its information technology, which might have been more promptly tackled as soon as the amalgamation of the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council was decided upon, could not wait.

Although the attention in schools and the outside world was on possible obstacles posed by Higher Still, inevitably it was computer hiccups, familiar to every large organisation, which have caused the main embarrassments, contributing to the gaps in a few candidates' certificates, delaying the processing of information by universities and even causing apoplexy among markers pressed into service and then denied the immediate fruits of their lbours.

Fortunately, as the Queen implied when describing one crisis-ridden part of her reign as her "annus horribilis", the SQA is unlikely to have to do through another such difficult year. That is just as well. It inherited from the SEB a world-class reputation for dependability and accuracy. Only so many mistakes can be made without jeopardising that.

Any recriminations, as well as the annual agonising in schools and education authorities about how one establishment or department fared against another, should not be for this weekend. The thousands upon thousands of results affect the well-being and prospects of individual young people. It is their success or disappointment, happiness or gloom which ought to be immediately uppermost in the minds of parents and teachers - and even of exhausted exam officials.

Good results may be the making of a youngster. Disappointment must not be read as long-term failure.

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