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McConnell gets out his sticking plasters

THE Education Minister has agreed to support a series of "quick fix" measures aimed at streamlining the assessment of Higher Still courses and also to consult on more fundamental changes for the long term, as reported earlier this month (TESS, June 8).

In his final progress report on preparation for this year's exams, Jack McConnell announced the setting up of a task group to oversee the implementation of the changes recommended by the National Qualifications steering group. The task group will be chaired by Colin MacLean, the "exams czar", who also chairs the steering group.

Mr McConnell came as close as he could to predicting an effective outcome in the handling of this year's results. "The overall picture of this summer's exams is a successful one," he told MSPs.

The areas on which the task group will act immediately are:

* A subject-by-subject review of the assessment arrangements.

* Establishing a better understanding among teachers of the standards required in the exams.

* Reviewing the way national assessment bank items (NABs) are used to assess candidates' performance in the units within each course, particularly in supporting appeals for a C pass.

* The design of the Scottish Qualifications Certificate.

* Overhaul of the "very time-consuming and bureaucratic exercise" of recruiting markers.

* Advising schools and other exam centres on how to assess more effectively.

* Improving data transmission between the SQA and centres.

In the longer term Mr McConnell has agreed to hold consultations on a more radical solution based on two options - candidates likely to be successful in the external exam could opt not to be assessed in each course unit, while others might achieve success in the units but choose not to be entered for the external exam.

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