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Rocket for exam chiefs

Damning classroom verdict on Higher Still reforms as SQA is accused of "failing miserably"

THE Scottish Qualifications Authority has been "failing miserably" to support teachers in the first year of Higher Still and is jeopardising pupils' chances, according to the normally balanced Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

As schools prepare for the first controversial diet of exams, assurances no pupil will be disadvantaged because of the transition failed to head off some of the most scathing criticism yet . Many delegates at last weekend's SSTA conference in Aviemore have been involved in devising courses and assessment and have supported the principles behind the reforms.

Richard Goring, the union's education convener, blamed the merger of the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council and the ascendency of the Scotvec approach with its "perpetual verification, excessive administrative duties and ever-increasing workload".

He asked: "Has the amalgamation worked? The answer at the end of the first year is a resounding no . Described as two offices joined by the longest corridor in Scotland - the M8 - the SQA has failed miserably to provide the quality of support required by schools ."

Many problems had been rectified but the SQA was clearly unprepared for the day-to-day issues Higher Still raised, while it failed to understand how schools operated. Music, for example, was an "administrative disaster".

Mr Goring said: "This 'all right on the night' approach may be OK for this year but we can't have that again. Teachers entered the Higher Still programme in the expectation that the support they would receive would make their jobs easier. In many cases, it has been the opposite."

John Nolan, a Fife principal languages teacher, said his new timetable began in June but it was November before he received cassettes for Higher German and any support materials for Intermediate II German. It was "a disgrace".

Bill Walker, an Inverness deputy head involved in progressing Higher Still nationally, sai he had been "appalled" at the nine unit assessments in geography . "It seems we have built the unit assessments into a huge monolith to crack a nut ."

Ron Tuck, the SQA's chief executive, admitted: "This has been a very challenging year for the SQA, as well as for schools and colleges, as we have openly admitted in our communications to centres and education authorities and also in our regular discussions with the SSTA and other stakeholders."

Mr Tuck added: "A total of 1,400 or so NABs (national assessment bank items) have been developed, the great majority on time and in accordance with priorities agreed with the Scottish Executive, although there have been some problems. The significant administrative problems arose largely from the very tight schedule for software development. These will not recur next year.

"We have already redesigned assessment arrangements where teacher views were clear on the need to do so. We are continuing to analyse feedback from authorities, teachers and students on assessment arrangements and will make further adjustments as required."

Leader, page 20

* Inconsistencies across subjects on assessment conditions.

* Amount of time preparing for, taking and reviewing assessments.

* Marginal students most burdened by reassessment .

* Changes and amendments to assessment instructions throughout the session.

* Inaccuracies in national assessment bank items .

* Contradictory advice about timing of unit assessments.

* Conflict between early assessment to allow for moderation and later assessment to allow for greater knowledge, understanding and maturity of students.

* Inability in small departments to provide courses at an appropriate level .

* Workload problems for staff and students.

* Major difficulties in electronic submissions through Phoenix and SEEMIS .

* Marked increase in administration of unit and course entries and results.

* Need for emergency check to confirm every single entry at unit and course level at S tandard grade, Higher and CSYS.

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