A testing Easter

13th April 2001 at 01:00
The Easter holidays bring no respite for the Scottish Qualifications Authority. Nor should they. It is clear that while things are in a better state than at this stage a year ago, problems remain and the staff need every day between now and the start of the exam diet next month, not to mention being ready for the period of marking and preparing certificates.

The press is alive to every hint of trouble. The appointment of well paid general managers has aroused opposition among the rest of the staff. So have bonuses promised to senior staff if things go well. Even the Sunday Post has become an anti-SQA crusader, focusing on the authority's lamentable failure to keep on top of certification in the further education sector.

The messages from schools are mixed. Most in our "SQA Watch" feature have been optimistic, at least by comparison with last year. But Marj Adams in her column on the opposite page s perhaps representative of many classroom eachers, fearful that shortcomings presage disaster come August. There is little that SQA leaders, or the Education Minister, can do to reassure candidates, much less the media. But they ought to be concerned at morale in the SQA itself. Leaked accounts of mounting problems suggest stress and low morale.

Little wonder, it might be said. But getting through this year's exams without serious problems needs confidence among the staff as well as an improvement in mechanics and management. A staff in disarray is likely to make more mistakes and to be less willing to go the extra mile yet again.

Rewarding senior employees without remembering the poor bloody infantry is not good management. If schools by and large are expecting a smoother few months, that optimism has to be instilled where it will count most - among those at the SQA's pressure points.

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