Fill in the data gaps

29th September 2000 at 01:00
THE FORMER chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority maintains that data management and internal management problems within the authority were alone responsible for the exams fiasco. Structures, including the links between the SQA and the Executive, were not at fault. Ron Tuck may be correct, but the two parliamentary committees looking into the events leading up the problems in August cannot be sure because there are gaps in the trail they are trying to follow. Advice offered by Executive officials to ministers is not being revealed to the MSPs.

Opposition members are right to protest. They cannot tell whether Sam Galbraith fell down on the job because they do not know what he was being told. All ministers have to rely on their officials, including in the case of education on the Inspectorate, their professional advisers. Brian Wilson leftthe pre-devolution education department complaining that he had not been adequately informed about teachers' views, dependent as he was on official conduits.

In Whitehall there is a long-held belief that officials will be frank only if they they retain confidentiality. But the Edinburgh Parliament and administration are meant to be open. Officials who are regularly brought before committees of the Parliament have lost their former anonymity. They show they are easily up to the MPS' inquisition, as one would expect since they spend their working lives mastering facts, analysing evidence and presenting conclusions.

Why the evidence they accumulate for ministers and the options they present for Executive decision should be regarded as sacrosanct is a mystery. Unravelling the tale of the SQA is not the stuff of D-notices and national security.

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