Crawling out of the coffin at the SQA

13th April 2001 at 01:00
If you can't face contemplating the performance of the Scottish Qualifications Authority in August look away now. Believe me, I have tried to be positive about all of this. I have every reason in the world to be hopeful - 60 pupils from my department sitting exams and, the very thing to incite the tigress mentality, my daughter is also involved.

The coffin lid is creaking. The question is, what will emerge? Make no mistake. This is a horror movie of cracking proportions and nasty things are lurking in the shadows. Take my own subject, for instance.

We have an extended essay which is written under exam conditions and marked externally. There is an option to submit pupils' essay titles for approval by the SQA. This we did because after last year's fiasco I was going for all the peace of mind we could get. (OK, there is a certain irony in that statement.) These were submitted in early January and we have had feedback regarding the Intermediate 2 titles but not yet on the Higher. The pupils are writing these essays soon as they have to be sent away by the end of April. Because we teach religious, moral and philosophical studies, are we expected to miraculously tune into the minds of the SQA?

Into these minds is somewhere I don't want to go. What must it be like at the SQA I can't imagine. Do they receive stress counselling to stay focused on ensuring that, come August, the boat doesn't smack into another iceberg?

Who exactly are the flak-catchers there and whose contracts will be terminated when the system fouls up again? Is it the management who are failing? If it is, then I sympathise with the ordinary workers.

This is an organisation which is under relentless public scruiny. Having one annus horribilis is maybe excusable but just the sniff of another is setting teeth on edge. The people who are employed by the SQA - at whatever level - have a moral duty to expose the weaknesses in the system. Jack McConnell has virtually thrown a blank cheque at Bill Morton, SQA chief executive, and, presumably, whatever is causing the problem doesn't need rocket science to fix it.

The pupils are suffering. If you believe otherwise go and join the ostriches with their legs in the air. It took a bizarre incident at my daughter's school to emphasise to me just how vulnerable these kids are. In the week that the folios were due to be sent away to the SQA more than 100 English Standard grade folios were stolen from Elgin Academy. Some pupils had their work saved on computers but the SQA will apparently accept the school's estimated predictions for the candidates whose one copy of their best work over two years has been nicked by a crazy thief.

The event made the pupils feel defenceless and bruised and, as other parents told me, raised questions about whether everything would be all right on the night. Personally, I take no chances. I lock my pupils' SQA material in a large steel cabinet in my classroom because the SQA can screw up all on their own without schools aiding and abetting them.

Finally, I have to say that I did not intend to write about this matter again this side of August but you will understand why I have been driven.

Come results day I am certain that there will be more hysterical calls for heads to tumble. Fair enough. But wouldn't it be a lot less painful if everyone who is presently contributing to the failing SQA just owned up now?

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