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So far, so goodl

A new weekly series by Raymond Ross tracks progress towards this year's Scottish Qualifications Authority exams

Compared to last year's fiasco which saw none of his candidates at Portobello High School, Edinburgh, receiving their Higher awards on the first round, principal teacher of English Charlie Evitt believes the SQA is "getting its act together quicker" this year and is listening to teachers and to parents.

"They did their best to rectify the situation in August but by then the rocket had gone off, with irate parents on the phone constantly. I wasn't surprised because of the insufficient number of markers.

"They've been quicker this time, sending out their first inquiry to establish a pool of markers in December. I got my marker's contract two weeks ago when I was expecting it to come about now. So they should know where they stand." But with Intermediate 1 and 2 now on stream in a lot more schools, he questions whether the pool will be large enough and thinks this will still be a "headache" for the SQA.

Portobello has already had its presentation lists back to be checked, again about two weeks ahead of last year's actual timetable, indicating, says Mr Evitt, "they have their documentation act together more".

"With Standard grade internal assessments to be in by the end of March and Higher by the end of April it looks a reasonable timetable on the face of it, but when you remember the Easter holidays will come bang in the middle of this, the reality is that you have to get the assessments done before the break.

"School management is aware that English is a special case but we still have to get though to parents it's not a matter of simply doing units and testing memory or knowledge. It's about developing skills and testing - as far as you can with large classes - when the individual pupil is ready. We'll always have to pick up the few who don't succeed the first time."

In general, Mr Evitt is happier and more confident about the SQA. "We are not groping in the dark so much, because more schools are doing Higher Still and Intermediate 1 and 2; so we are talking to each other more. We are presenting 160 for Higher and, for the first time, 60 for Intermediate 2 and 40 for Intermediate I. We could do with more and sometimes clearer teaching and assessment materials for the latter courses.

"I have to say they are infinitely better courses than the previous Scotvec modules but because of the gap in skills required I have reservations about Intermediate 1 being a valid preparation for Higher."

SQA materials and communications are now clearer in Mr Evitt's experience, and he has been pleased to receive a consultation document on how to make the final certificates simpler.

"It shows they're listening to parents as well as teachers. Last year's certificates didn't mean anything to a lot of parents or, I suspect, employers."

The SQA's date of August 14 for all results to be confirmed is still "a bit late", says Mr Evitt, for pupils awaiting university places.

Do tell us of any difficulties or improvements that your school is encountering with the SQA this year. Please email or write to ScotlandPlus, TES Scotland, Scott House, 10 South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AZ

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