The right result is everything

10th August 2001 at 01:00
LIKE all those young people waiting for that dreaded brown envelope to drop through their letter boxes, I'm dreading the publication of this year's exam results.

It's not that I've taken lifelong learning to heart and signed up for a couple of Highers at one of our school's evening class sessions.

It's just that I don't think I could go through again what I went through last year, as news desks and education correspondents asked for an update about the kids at our schools and demanded access to heidies, kids and, if at all possible, angry parents prepared to lambast the Scottish Qualification Authority and, if at all possible, after day one of the meltdown, Education Minister Sam Galbraith, too.

If the kids suffered, so did I as a council media officer, and rough calculations show that I spent almost three weeks from the delivery, or not, of the first set of results doing virtually nothing but dealing with SQA-related matters.

Part of the real problem was that the authority did not come clean with the media and the story simply took a new twist almost daily as the days and weeks passed and the horrible truth unfolded.

And the worst thing of all was that the heidies, in school especially to deal with what they had imagined would perhaps be just a little more work than usual, the normal run of pupils seeking advice and comfort, plus the one or two results that have always gone amiss from time immemorial, were driven to the end of their tether by me, too.

There they were: deluged with pupils, many wholly distraught, others coming in with parents, some driven to near suicide by what the totally inadequate SQA helpline told them, and then I, hounded by the newsdesks, phoned the heidies in turn.

I dreaded SQA press conferences, for I knew that every one would produce a fresh angle which had to be investigated, so that another day could be written off.

And there I was trying to source the information, trying to reach heidies, pupils and parents, and trying at all times not to be dragged into what was becoming increasingly a political witch-hunt in which the youngsters were beginning to be forgotten about by the media.

Worst of all, the SQA debacle seemed to set the tenor for what passed across my desk for the rest of the year, the SQA quickly being replaced by the fuel protest, the Unison strike, sundry sudden deaths and murders on my patch and a general feeling of gloom.

Not that I'm blaming the SQA for that. It's just that it seemed to set the scene and then kept flitting in and out of my working days right up until this year's diet when questions about still-disputed appeals and marker levels started to flow once again.

And that's why my nerve has gone for this year. From a purely selfish standpoint, not forgetting the candidates, teachers, parents and heidies for one minute, the thought of going through the same again from next week doesn't bear thinking about.

I know that the SQA is better prepared in press terms this year, although a pre-results issue meeting with all education press officers would be a good move, and that much has been done internally.

But there's always the nagging doubt that some new, hitherto unseen and unanticipated set of problems will rear its ugly head. I had considered taking the coward's way out and rescheduling my traditional July holiday to August, but one look from colleagues and from the director soon put that notion in one of last year's brown envelopes.

Instead, I'll be there, by the phone when the results come out, hoping and praying that they do, and reciting a new novena that I've just come across to St Jude.

Who else?

Hugh Dougherty

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