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New SQA chief rules out appeal charges

The new chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority has ruled out any immediate change to the Higher English course and exam.

Anton Colella, 42, who took over last week, has also denied claims about charging for exam appeals after the authority ran up an estimated pound;15 million overspend.

He pledged to continue listening to the concerns about the structure of the English course and similar anxiety about art and design but is opting for a steady-as-you-go policy.

"In relation to English, we are looking for a time of bedding-in and we're not going to quickly change but we are receptive and responsive to the views of the education community," he said.

Mr Colella was formerly director of qualifications before moving up to acting chief executive when David Fraser mysteriously resigned in September for "personal reasons".

In only two-and-a-half years, Mr Colella has risen from depute head at St Margaret Mary's Secondary in Castlemilk to one of the plum jobs in Scottish education with a salary of over pound;90,000. He is the fourth SQA chief executive in the last four years but the first with a direct secondary school background.

As the only internal candidate, he beat off challenges from outside the authority after impressing senior board members over the past three months.

On his appointment last week he promised to hold on to the gains of the last three years after the SQA regained the confidence of the public in running a successful exams system.

Mr Colella promised a "culture of openness and transparency" in how schools can achieve national standards. "You will be aware of the highly successful professional development seminars we have been running for teachers. For the first time this year, over 1,000 teachers having been coming to seminars on English and art and design.

"We have openly communicated to them the manner in which the paper was set, marked and grades awarded so that they are able to translate those standards into their own teaching in the classroom. The achievements we've made in that area are going to grow," he said.

Mr Colella and Sir John Ward, SQA chairman, are also working closely with ministers to hammer out a revised charging system for exams and expect to make an announcement in the new year. The authority has over-spent by around pound;15m because of the expansion of the exam system after the Higher Still reforms. More students are taking more exams at different levels, requiring more external markers. Fees for markers have also increased.

Exam costs have been held down for the past five years and present charges only cover around half the actual cost. The SQA, however, is not about to charge for appeals for the first time. Indeed, the authority stresses that the number of appeals has dropped considerably and is back in line with pre-2000 rates.

Financial plans for the SQA suggest it should move towards self-sufficiency within four years once fees are raised. Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, has already signalled an imminent rise in charges.

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