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Morton agrees to stay on at SQA

The Education Minister has acted to reduce the complexity of exams after the summer results debacle, reports Neil Munro.

BILL MORTON has agreed to stay on as interim chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority until November next year. His stint was due to end in February.

The Deloitte amp; Touche independent inquiry into the exams crisis had warned of a "serious crisis" if Mr Morton left: his retention was one of the key recommendations of the inquiry's report.

It is one of the steps being taken by the SQA in its action plan ordered by the Education Minister, indicating how it intended to comply with the Deloitte amp; Touche recommendations (see right).

The authority's plans reveal it has taken a considerable number of steps to ensure a successful run of next year's exam diet and, in the longer term, to restore the fortunes of the embattled organisation. A "certification 2001 planning group" has been set up to oversee next year's exams.

The SQA says it intends to seek the secondment of a secondary head to ensure it is kept fully informed of "the schools' perspective in curriculum development and assessment methodologies," as well as the impact any changes would have on schools. New "accounts managers" have also been appointed for schools and colleges to provide more ffective feedback and a new communications strategy is to be put in place.

The authority is also moving to meet criticisms from Deloitte amp; Touche that its management team is too large by replacing the 21 units and providing strategic direction through three new divisions - corporate services, strategy and planning and qualifications. The operation of the SQA on two sites in Glasgow and Dalkeith is to be reviewed.

The SQA acknowledges that "cultural and behavioural tensions" exist, stemming from the separate identities of its two predecessor bodies . It says there cannot be a short-term solution, however, although it hopes that the appointment of new general managers to work across the organisation, along with more active human resource management to train and deploy staff properly, will begin to make a difference.

The need to improve "low morale and fatigue" in the operations unit, which is charged with the conduct of the exams, is recognised in the action plan as "difficult to address" given that the unit is still dealing with the aftermath of this year's exams. More staff and more training are promised.

The exams body is also to improve its computerised awards processing system, which was introduced prematurely and collapsed under the weight of assessment data this year.

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