THE SCOTTISH Qualifications Authority has promised to think carefully about schools' reservations on a second examination diet, before sending its recommendations to the First Minister.
The likeliest outcome remains a sitting in January as well as the traditional one in May and June. But Ron Tuck, the SQA's chief executive, acknowledged that consultations revealed schools were concerned about the pressures of a second diet for re-sits and about practicalities such as the availability of setters and markers.
The SQA's recommendation, Mr Tuck told its annual conference on Friday, is complicated by further education colleges who have welcomed the move but argue that it does not go far enough.
The change has been driven by the need to have common post-16 assessment in schools and colleges in the wake of Higher Still. After 15 years in which colleges have internally assessed non-advanced courses, external assessment will have to take place in both sectors.
Tom Kelly, chief officer of the Association of Scottish Colleges, said it was vital that students with other commitments had access to external assessment when needed.
He hoped eventually to see a national system which would allow external exams to be taken at different times in the year.
Peter Duncan, principal of the Central College of Commerce in Glasgow, said the SQA's consultation had asked the wrong question. "The issue about external assessment is not the number of diets but timing and flexibility," he said.
Mr Tuck announced that a working group is to look specifically at the use and cost of information and communication technology to introduce more flexibility into external assessment.
Despite their reservations, Mr Tuck said some heads could see benefits once the restrictions on sitting Standard grade and Higher exams in fourth and fifth year respectively are lifted.
He said: "If Standard grades are taken in the third year, this could give pupils an 18-month run at Higher and at Advanced Higher, which could address concerns about 'the two-term dash.' But that is not a matter for the SQA."
Mr Tuck revealed the authority would soon announce it was abandoning proposals to combine GeneralCredit and FoundationGeneral papers in Standard grade exams. The plan was to compress exam sittings because of the greater teaching time involved in Higher Still. But the reaction was overwhelmingly hostile, Mr Tuck told the conference. The change would have meant papers of up to three hours' duration.
In his speech Mr Tuck said that, with the development of Higher Still and the new credit and qualifications framework, "the qualifications house is now built.
"While it will require maintenance and occasional refurbishment, it should require no major structural alterations," he said.