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So much to do, so little time to do it

The May results deadline is worrying FE colleges, Raymond Ross reports

Last year Motherwell College of Further Education had 35,000 entries for Scottish Qualifications Authority exams and it still regularly receives queries from students about missing certificates.

"A lot of our people haven't received their certificates yet and this reflects badly on us as well as the SQA," says college principal Richard Millham.

Andrew Coulter, the information systems manager at the college, says: "My concerns for this year centre on the compressed timescale and the sheer volume of materials coming from the SQA.

"The SQA couldn't accept data until the end of January, instead of SeptemberOctober. That's put a lot of pressure on us.

"I think there has been a slightly more reliable data processing system this year but the sheer volume of information the SQA returns for every entry we submit is cumbersome and time-consuming.

"If there wasn't enough feedback last year, in a sense there's too much now.

"We have 29,000 entries and we receive one set of paper files and one set of electronic files for every submission. You need to check each entry and compare each paper file with its electronic equivalent. The SQA has proved quite consistent butwhen a specific file is wrong, they have to reload the entire file - that means everything - because of the way their system operates. So everything has to be checked again.

"The SQA did warn us this would be the case but it's still a frustration."

Another aspect of the timescale also concerns Mr Coulter. "National qualification results on internally assessed units have to be in by May 31 to be guaranteed your results by August 13," he explains. "In further education we teach into June, so there will be a lot of cases where it will be impossible to meet that deadline. Perhaps the SQA has its eye on schools more than on colleges.

"They say they will do their best for us but we'd like a guarantee. We're trying to support our students. I think I'm probably more hopeful than confident that we'll get all our results by August 13."

Lines of communication with the SQA have improved greatly, especially with the appointment of account managers, says Mr Coulter. "One point of contact in the SQA who can get in touch with the right person for you makes the responsibility clearer - a great improvement.

"However, that doesn't stop students rolling their eyes and making sighs. Their confidence has been shaken and that remains a worry."

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