THE Scottish Qualifications Authority is to press directors of education to make it easier for teachers to get time off for marking - at a time when the organisation's standing among markers has never been higher.
The authority's first ever survey of its 20,000 markers and other exam staff found that a remarkable 90 per cent of appointees, mostly markers, would recommend marking to a colleague.
But teachers are increasingly finding it difficult to be released and have told the SQA that negotiating time off is one of the most stressful things they have to do.
Mike Haggerty, head of communications at the SQA, told The TES Scotland it would be seeking a meeting with the Association of Directors of Education.
Some authorities, it emerges, are getting more out of the exam system than they are prepared to put in. Richard Moorhouse, the SQA's appointments manager, notes: "The poorest authorities would need to appoint 20 per cent more markers to be pulling their weight: they enter far more candidates proportionately than they release teachers to be markers."
Mr Moorhouse also points out that 200 teachers have to be pulled in to deal with exam appeals alone. "Some heads find it difficult to release teachers for this - yet at the same time they expect appeals to be processed quickly."
Mr Haggerty acknowledges the pressures on authorities and schools and the logistical difficulties in finding supply cover but says: "If everyone plays fair, everyone benefits."
The survey makes it clear that markers - and by extension, schools and authorities - benefit from their experience. Some 82 per cent say that marking and other exam duties help their continuing professional development.
Schools and pupils also benefit from having teachers who understand the system and the standards that are expected, the SQA says.
The almost totally positive reaction represents a remarkable turnaround from three years ago when the talk was of droves of disillusioned teachers deserting marking. Since then fees have been increased by 50 per cent and two-thirds of markers in the survey do not cite payment as an issue when invited to make ad hoc comments.
This year - and last - all markers had been appointed before the exams started. Of 3 million or so exam scripts, only four had not been fully marked by the end of last week, a major contrast with the 60,000 scripts left unmarked in the SQA's Dalkeith nerve centre in the crisis year of 2000.
New-look SQA a hit, page 3 Leader, page 12