'Negligence' in exams fiasco

Neil Munro

No one escapes blame in the most comprehensive and scathing report yet published on the exams debacle, which will be issued today, reports Neil Munro

THE PARLIAMENT'S education committee inquiry, the fourth so far, fingers all parties and says principles, policies and practice were all found wanting. The most damning judgments, however, are reserved for the board of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the inspectorate, rather than the Scottish Executive.

The committee's report echoes those of the other inquiries by the SQA itself, Deloitte amp; Touche and the parliamentary lifelong learning committee, saying that the problems at the SQA did not stem from a single cause. Their roots were cultural, managerial, technological, political, financial and staff related - virtually endemic. Only the foot soldiers, school teachers and SQA junior staff, are spared.

"In all the evidence one major issue is paramount: many parties have lost confidence in the SQA as an organisation," the education committee concludes.

The report goes so far as to suggest that without "careful planning and inspired leadership" the athority's ability to run next year's exams successfully must be doubted.

The report's most frequent charge, levelled at virtually all parties, is one of "negligence" in the conduct of this year's exams, in which 16,748 candidates or three per cent of the total were victims of missing, incomplete or inaccurate data affecting 18,232 individual results.

Despite the impact on individuals, however, the committee says there was no firm evidence that pupils' higher education chances or career aspirations were damaged.

The committee's report was virtually unanimous - but not quite. The Labour and Liberal Democrat members found fault with the Executive but stopped short of direct criticism of Sam Galbraith, then the Education Minister.

The SNP pushed matters to a vote to highlight Mr Galbraith's failure to intervene more forcefully at an early stage when his officials were telling him that the processing of this year's examination results was causing serious concern. The Conservatives pinpointed Mr Galbraith's handling of the crisis after it broke, although they absolved him of any blame for its origins.

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