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Proof of the pudding is in the eating

Raymond Ross on a headteacher who has sympathy for the SQA

Many among senior management and class teachers might find it easier to have sympathy with the devil than with the Scottish Qualifications Authority in the aftermath of last year's fiasco, but in Shetland, Anderson High School's headteacher Ian Spence has not only sympathy for the SQA but perhaps even a little pity.

"Once the mess started the SQA couldn't get to grips with it and bringing in new people didn't help initially because they had to learn from scratch. Their morale must have been so low. If the mess happens again, I don't honestly believe the education system could stand it," he says.

Anderson High School was "a microcosm of what was happening throughout Scotland", and sorting out the appeals has been equally messy, he says, with the school still waiting on one candidate's appeal to be sorted out.

However, Mr Spence's experience so far this year suggests a more hopeful outcome.

"The link officer is a good idea and we've mirrored this so that we have one member of staff talking to the appointed officer in the SQA. Communications are clear down the line."

That said, the administration workload has not lessened and blips in the communications system are still causing problems.

"The computer outputs can still be confusing and time consuming. If there's an inaccuracy, say, in a candidate's date of birth - and it might be your own inaccuracy - it's still not easy to sort it out. The system needs simplified and I hink the SQA accepts this.

"The end of April deadline for final assessments is a compromise date which we accept. The end of May would be better, though it might pose problems for them administratively," he says. "I'm still not enamoured of the unit assessments, which need cut down significantly, but that's not the SQA's fault. They're stuck with them too."

On the other hand, the August 14 date for results will affect Anderson High pupils adversely.

"It causes difficulties because we always hold 'clinic days' in the last week of the summer holidays, when guidance staff come in and meet with S45 pupils to discuss what courses they will pursue in the light of their results. Even though the new timetable begins in the summer term, pupils always need to change courses after their results.

"It'll mean that guidance will have to spend the first (in-service) Monday dealing with this and pupils will begin the new courses on the Wednesday. You obviously can't start the term without pupils knowing what they're doing."

The administration burden in dealing with presenting 130 S4, 180 S5 and 130 S6 pupils, Mr Spence describes as "onerous", though he says staff morale has always remained high.

"It has to be. You can't let the pupils down."

The verdict so far?

"We'll let the SQA off for one year. There's not the same problems with forms and print-outs coming back at you like last year. But I'm not going to think things are right until they are right."

Watch this space.

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