Officials tell of struggle to stay calm

6th October 2000 at 01:00
David Henderson and Neil Munro report on the latest exchanges as Holyrood continues to probe the exams fiasco

THE SQA'S chairman, was never at any time told by teachers and headteachers during the past year that Higher Still certification was "an undoable project".

Giving evidence to the education, culture and sport committee, David Miller said he had toured schools and spoken with teachers at all levels but was never advised to halt the process.

He reiterated that "an accumulation of small errors" caused the results delay, adding: "If we had not mismanaged data, we would not be sitting here now."

Mr Miller revealed Bill Arundel, number two in the operations department, acted as his whistle-blower in early July after a visit to the Dalkeith base. Mr Arundel forecast that "not much above 80 per cent" of results would be correct but later revised his figures downwards. He said it was a "can-do organisation" and reassured Mr Miller.

Two to three weeks before August 10, up to 20,000 papers were affected. But staff, working round the clock, reduced that to several hundred only days before results were to be published.

On the day of publication, Mr Miller drove unannounced to Dalkeith to find several thousand envelopes unposted. He now accepts he was misled, a situation Ron Tuck, the former chief executive, also found himself n.

Mr Miller, without naming him directly, fingered Jack Greig, head of the operations department, who was until this week facing disciplinary action.

The former head of the SQA's awards division admitted not enough was done to shore up the operations unit. Alarm bells started to ring at the end of March, David Elliot said, when he discovered the amount of overtime being worked.

Some action had been taken, such as moving employer and training provider work to Glasgow "to allow the Dalkeith staff a clear run at Higher Still".

Mr Elliot began to realise in the summer that the operations unit, for which he had overall managerial responsibility, needed restructuring but did not go ahead because of the pressures staff were under. In any case, he added, "the operations staff had the expertise and couldn't be cloned overnight."

Additional personnel were transferred from other duties but operational deficiencies were compounded by "unforeseen problems" in delivery of the tools to manage assessment data, late arrival of the data itself and insufficient numbers of markers which caused a "nightmarish situation".

Responding to comments that he was too eager to accept reassurances, he replied: "I was very anxious, the staff were very anxious, from March through to August. But we had to stay calm and not become despondent."

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