Results not whole story

So, the Scottish Qualifications Authority appears to be back on track. After the debacle of the 2000 exam diet and the herculean efforts to avoid a repetition last year, the 2002 story appears to be one of an organisation on the road to recovery - although it is still unable to function fully without a hefty subvention from the Scottish Executive.

But the SQA's organisational and IT systems - its weakest links in 2000 - have proved they can handle the formidable amount of assessment data, albeit aided by some streamlining of that data which so overwhelmed the authority two years ago. Its performance this year has also to be judged against an increase of 14,000 exam entries. This year, the authority can bask in the brickbats being directed against someone else, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Of course, the SQA still cannot win. Headlines about panic over a 2 per cent fall in Higher pass rates are a case in point. South of the border, where there has been great concern that rising pass rates imply that exams are getting too easy, this news would have been greeted with acclaim and relief that standards were being maintained.

These are not quite the real issues, of course. The preoccupation for teachers and parents remains the amount of assessment pupils must undertake in post-16 courses. The Executive has moved quickly to allay these fears but it is not out of the woods yet. After the rejection of options for fundamental change, Ministers are now setting great store by the laborious reviews of assessment in all 70 Higher Still subjects. They hope this will demonstrate a commitment to reduce the burdens on teachers, pupils and the SQA itself, so killing off any threat of a boycott from the Educational Institute of Scotland.

The meeting of the EIS's ruling council on September 6 will provide the next theatrical stage for this never-ending performance. Expect some frantic, perhaps even nimble, political footwork before then from the Education Minister and EIS leaders.

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