Nervous weekend wait for students

The chaos endured by exam candidates in previous years may be over, if early signs are any guide. Neil Munro reports

Schools and colleges should know by today whether this year's exams have gone without any significant hitches.

Results are scheduled to arrive by email, with paper copies delivered by courier on Monday, ready for 137,000 candidates receiving the news from Tuesday onwards.

The beginning of the week already saw one milestone successfully achieved as a spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) confirmed that exam data for 27,000 students applying for places in further and higher education had arrived on Monday - a day earlier than expected.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has left nothing to chance in its arrangements for handling the issuing of 755,000 results, masterminded by Neil MacGowan, the authority's head of customer relations.

There will be a special helpline operating from August 13-18 which will be run by the Essentia call centre group. It will be staffed by 50 operators, rising to 75 if necessary, who have all been trained. They expect to take 5,500 calls during the six days.

There will also be a Royal Mail helpline, paid for by the SQA, for those who do not receive their certificate by the afternoon of August 13. And the regular Careers Scotland helpline will run as usual, branded this year as One Life.

The SQA has given its telephone advisers detailed scripts to answer the most frequently asked questions, based on experience in 2000 and 2001. These are:

* I have not received a certificate at all - how can I find out my results?

* I was expecting a better grade - can I make an appeal?

* I sat the exam, but there is no grade on my certificate;

* I have an award for a course I did not take;

* I don't understand the lay-out of my certificate - I'm unsure what my results actually are;

* I have been awarded an A pass at Intermediate 2 level, even though I sat the Higher exam;

* I don't understand why the core skills I have been awarded are not at the same level as my courses and units;

* I need some urgent careers advice; can you help me with options?

After August 18, calls will be dealt with by the SQA's helpline or forwarded to a special email address for action. The authority's staff will not be expected to deal directly with callers who will be "politely but firmly" told to use the advice lines.

Schools and colleges will have a telephone number and email address of their SQA account manager to deal with any enquiries or resolve any problems. There are 26 in the team, each allocated to a group of education authorities and colleges. Once a query is logged on the database, the school or college is automatically sent emails or faxes to check on progress.

HELPLINES TO FOCUS ON BEST ADVICE

Careers Scotland says its helpline, which gives guidance to callers based on their exam results, will be the most sophisticated operation so far. The service took more than 4,000 callers last year.

"We can now give very focused advice to people calling us," Christina Allon, director of Careers Scotland in the Scottish Enterprise area, says. "The days of simply telling someone 'Maybe you could think about...' are gone. We can now deliver advice that will direct them to specific course or job opportunities."

Catriona Eagle, director of Careers Scotland in the Highlands and Islands Enterprise area, said the helpline would ensure that those in remote areas have the same access to advisers as people in urban areas.

Contacts:

Advice line: 0845 278 8080

Royal Mail helpline: 0845 602 3847

Careers helpline: 0808 100 8000

E-mail enquiries: results2002 sqa.org.uk

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