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SQA makes the grade

NO organisation has had its demise so prematurely foretold as often as the Scottish Qualifications Authority. It is probably fair to say also that no organisation has been on the point of "turning the corner" quite so often.

But, as we await the publication of this year's exam results next Tuesday, there are certainly grounds for quiet confidence. Indeed, the quietness has been a striking feature: it is the exam authorities south of the border which have had to make the reassuring noises this year following last year's A-level fiasco.

The results of the SQA's survey of markers (pages 1 and 3) is another milestone which provides remarkable testimony to the ground that has been made up in the past three years. Who would have thought that, even last year, 90 per cent of teachers and others who mark would have urged their colleagues to do likewise? Who would have imagined that remuneration for marking is an issue for only a third of those surveyed? Who, even, would have thought that access to SQA data would come in for praise in an organisation where it was data-handling which nearly brought the house down?

We should also note the fact that 3 million exam scripts have been marked, with the small matter of just four which had still to be pressed to their final conclusion by the end of last week.

That would have been unremarkable up to 1999. But the modern exam industry is a complex business, because exams are more complex, and we can never say never. The certainties and performances of the past cannot be repeated.

There will also be inevitable "crises" over which the SQA has no control or responsibility, the fallout from changes in the Higher English course being the most recent example. But there is at least now light in the tunnel not just at the end of it.

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