Exam chiefs play pigeons and statues

16th March 2001 at 00:00
Exam chiefs presented their most upbeat assessment yet of the prospects for this year's diet. But the Scottish Qualifications Authority admits that it is still not yet "best fit for purpose".

In a remarkable move which is virtually an admission that it still cannot rule out errors, the SQA revealed it would ask schools in April for a final check on all the candidate and subject entry details it holds for this year.

"This is a major innovation and addresses the problems last year when the whole process was undermined by inaccurate recording of entries," Bill Morton, the SQA's chief executive, said on Wednesday.

Mr Morton was speaking after the authority held its monthly meeting with Jack McConnell, Education Minister, who declared himself pleased with the progress so far but stressed the importance of avoiding complacency.

The Executive also issued its response this week to last year's parliamentary inquiries into the exams crisis. It broadly welcomes the recommendations, sets out all steps taken to improve matters and promises to keep a close watch on the authority.

It has been announced that of 4,000 appeals against last year's results submitted to the spcial panels set up by the Executive, only 5 per cent were accepted. Mr Morton said that this reflected the "rigour" of the SQA's procedures.

Despite early hiccups, the authority has now received 1,752,687 subject entries from 572 schools; data from three centres that is still outstanding is being "actively pursued".

The authority is also reporting success in recruiting staff to run the exams. It has signed contracts with 85 per cent of the moderators needed to check on the quality of internal assessment, compared with 48 per cent at the beginning of February. Despite a 50 per cent hike in fees, 2,000 markers must still be found - a 25 per cent shortfall. There is a similar need for examiners.

In a progress report to the secondary heads' spring conference (above), Mr Morton wryly observed: "Some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue."

After his talk Gordon Mackenzie, the heads' president, welcomed Mr Morton's "upfront" approach. But Mr Mackenzie added: "We are not out of the woods yet and there is still a lot of nervousness around. The difference this year is that where there are errors, they are being picked up much more quickly."

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