New-look SQA is a hit with markers

Neil Munro

AS the Scottish Qualifications Authority waits with bated breath for next Tuesday, the third test of its revamped exams regime since the crisis year of 2000, it seems to have won over at least one group crucial to its credibility - markers.

The authority is "pleasantly surprised" at the reaction, with 90 per cent stating in the first such survey that they would recommend being a marker to fellow teachers.

Mike Haggerty, the SQA's head of communications, is in no doubt of the importance of the finding. "Without them, we're stuck."

The authority has certainly been pulling out the stops to make life more attractive, boosting fees and trying to become more "marker-friendly".

Markers' fees have risen considerably and have a complex tariff. There is a rate of pound;2 per script but those who mark the main papers such as English and maths are paid an extra general fee equivalent to 50 scripts, reflecting the heavier load.

Senior managers at the SQA have also been getting in touch with their feminine side. They have taken to dropping into markers' meetings asking how things are and how they can be improved. One marker said: "I've been coming to these meetings for 25 years and no one's ever asked me that before."

The survey, which covered a small number of other appointees but mainly markers, also had further good news for the SQA. Questioned on their understanding of what was expected of them, the resources they needed to do the job properly, the ease of access to data and the value placed on their contribution to the SQA, over 90 per cent of responses were positive.

Similar levels of satisfaction emerged when questions were asked about training support and the clarity of SQA documentation and information.

But one ripple of dissatisfaction the SQA says it will act on is the quality of venues for markers' meetings. This is no small matter since the authority may be one of the largest organisers of meetings in Scotland.

Some gatherings have as many as 300 to 400 markers, so larger venues such as Murrayfield and Celtic Park have to be used as well as hotels.

The SQA also pledges to look at the system for delivering scripts to markers. It switched from the Royal Mail to Parcelforce last year which meant that scripts could no longer be left "outside people's front doors or under the dustbin round the back", as one put it.

Parcelforce requires markers to sign for deliveries. If there is no one at home, they have to be collected. Markers can notify the SQA of an alternative address and a quarter chose to do that this year.

"We use Parcelforce because they have an excellent tracking system and we know exactly where every script is when it's in their hands," Mr Haggerty says. "It needs improving and it will be improved. But we need to strike a balance between flexibility and security."

Meanwhile next Tuesday will see a different kind of delivery as results are delivered to candidates' homes. It is a huge operation: one in three Scottish households will be waiting anxiously.

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Neil Munro

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