The embarrassment will not have been eased by the fact that the "exams czar", who was also having a good day, is a former chief statistician in St Andrew's House. However, it was mathematician Mr McConnell who started asking the questions, suspicious of a 7 per cent "improvement" in Higher passes. Headlines come and headlines go, but the SQA knows only too well that perceptions predominate: the impression will have been created yet again that it could not organise an examination in an exam hall.
Yet there is a success story here of a sort. The organisation has shown, at least for this year, that it is capable of processing the data thrown at it by a fiendishly complex system, generated by 4.25 million papers across 764 different exams. This year it knew what it did not know. There is none the less a lurking suspicion, and the SQA as well as the minister is only too well aware of it. Was success the result of a well-oiled machine or was it bought only by Herculean efforts on the part of all concerned, backed by an additional pound;14 million from the taxpayer and a week's delay in issuing the results?
No doubt the machine was better oiled: indeed, it could scarcely have been less creaky than last year. But this year's experience is clearly not sustainable, as the schools are telling us: an abnormal effort was required to produce what should have been a normal state of affairs. So while the SQA will have to continue refining its operations, the focus must shift to mounting a more manageable operation.
The national task group on National Qualifications assessment is now, arguably, the most important organisation in Scottish education.