The bell tolls. Let's hope it's a false alarm

27th July 2001 at 01:00
IT'S a foolhardy teacher who expects no problems with the exam results and it's a misguided optimist who chides others for expressing doubts. Over the past year, we pessimists have sussed the enemies pretty accurately: the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Qualifications Authority's crazy computer system and a universal failure of will to rectify problems.

Sorry, but I can't fathom why we are in some kind of Dark Age which doesn't guarantee to get accurate exam results out on time and to the right candidates.

I have a lurking suspicion - please, let it be wrong - that various gremlins are lurking again. A recent call from a hesitant SQA employee requested me to mark exam papers. I wanted to say NO - my daughter is getting married in the summer and I certainly did not want her day overshadowed by the burden of marking. But the voice at the other end was quite desperate and I tentatively asked about the number of scripts. As a parent as well as a teacher I felt a sense of obligation.

Phew! It then became obvious that I was being asked to mark German, a subject I have not seen hide nor hair of since I scraped a C in Higher German more years ago than I care to calculate. Thank your lucky stars, folks. Spare your hot flushes. Your pupils have had a narrow escape.

Mentally, I was breathing a mega sigh of relief that my daughter doesn't take German but somebody's child does. And that's not the only scary little gem clutched in my sweaty palm.

A principal assessor in another discipline - subject name withheld for his protection - was, without notice, dropped from marking papers. How did he find out? He telephoned the SQA to find out where his papers were. It is a grubby and babyish way for any employer to behave never mind an organisation which pays peanuts - OK, it's a smidgen better than last year's rates but it's still pitiful - and relies on the goodwill of hundreds of teachers.

So, you'll be getting my drift. Despite the vaguely reassuring noises emanating from the powers that be, I believe that the sky is about to fall on Chicken Licken's head. But, if there's another screw-up, it's the head of Henry McLeish which should be demanded on a charger. Perhaps I am missing something but hasn't he staked his reputation on the SQA getting it right this time?

By this time the First Minister must know whether the SQA will deliver or not, come August 14. If he doesn't know, then he should be making it his business to find out. Will he broadcast (remember last year and Sam Galbraith) from his holiday destination to tell the nation there are a few wee difficulties with the certificates and not quite everyone will receive their results on time?

I was talking to a friend today whose son should be receiving Higher results in August. Why, he asked, can the SQA not sort out the problems and give categorical assurances that it will deliver. As an experienced teacher I felt quite feeble in my response. I don't know what stands between the SQA and total competency and, much more disturbing, I wonder if it does.

And so the bell is tolling ominously. But caution. Maybe my approach is just a tad too pessimistic. Even now my daughter's results and those of all my pupils could be safely sealed in envelopes ready for posting. Pristine, complete and accurate. I very much hope so.

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