The rush to blame

18th August 2000 at 01:00
THE dramatically unforeseen extent of the Scottish Qualifications Authority's problems is first and foremost a public relations disaster. It will be hard for the authority to re-establish its reputation for reliability in years to come. But candidates - justifiably bemused, upset and angry - will not be disadvantaged although they are being left in the dark longer than they ought to be at a stressful point in their lives.

Ron Tuck, the former chief executive, who has not tried to shirk responsibility, remains puzzled about why what appeared to be a limited problem span out of control. If, as he says, data management rather than inherent problems with software were to blame, that does not excuse the SQA or its chief executive.

But it does add force to his main concern that Higher Still is not cast into outer darkness. The SQA system was capable of copig with the extra load of the new exams and the internal assessment data from schools and colleges. The inquiry into why it did not work properly should therefore be kept apart from a debate about lessons to be learnt for Higher Still.

Mr Tuck's hope is politically naive. Opponents of Higher Still assessment will naturally use the ammunition given them. Ministers and their opponents will seek to deflect or apportion blame. That said, the attempt to force Sam Galbraith's resignation betrays a woeful misunderstanding of the concept of arm's length organisations, with which ministers are specifically excluded from interfering.

But Mr Tuck is right that the evaluation of Higher Still should turn on what teachers, pupils, parents and employers think of the new courses and assessment methods. Changes are best not born of impetuous, angry reaction.

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