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There was a special check to make sure that the microphones were switched off when the private session of the Parliament's education committee considered nominations last week as expert adviser to the Scottish Qualifications Authority inquiry.

Three names were in the frame - John MacBeath, soon to take his chair from Strathclyde University to Cambridge, Tom Bryce, a Strathclyde professorial fixture, and Hamish Long, last director of the Scottish Examination Board. <> None met with immediate approval even although the eventual winner will not be constrained by the pay conditions affecting other specialist advisers - it's a high-profile and pressured commitment, MSPs were told, so there will be largesse.

Among those turning down the job was Elizabeth Reid, former director in Edinburgh, whose tenure of the same post in Hackney has proved lamentably short. No surprise in that fractious and failing education authority.

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