EVERY spring the Scottish Qualifications Authority is understandably nervous. If you want to be unpopular with any long-serving external examiner, remind him of the year history candidates were left unclear about whether a question referred to the First or Second World War.
Pre-exams nerves will be stretched further than usual this month. Not only does Higher Still, with its range of levels, bring new administrative challenges, but there are many teachers ready to pounce if anything goes wrong. The media, having sharpened their claws on the Executive, will not be merciful either. The extent of resentment against the SQA became clear at last weekend's conference of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, which prides itself on supporting subject specialists. The litany of complaints (page one) was long and bitter.
But how much of the frustration can be put down to eething troubles? The SQA itself says many problems were caused by software delays, and materials are now in place for next and subsequent years. Hiccups with the administrative computer programs are also likely to diminish.
Our survey of headteachers (and pupils) in ScotlandPlus last week painted a more variegated picture than the SSTA. Some of the Higher Still courses appear to have gone well, some of the problems were put down as temporary. But there are deep-seated worries. English has been a flashpoint. Geography and music now get adverse comment, too. In many if not most cases assessment is the bugbear. Teachers are ingenious enough to work with and supplement inadequate materials. Over-complex assessment procedures are beyond their control.
A serious review of Higher Still aimed at isolating the essential from the dispensable is a pre-August priority.