The Scottish Executive and the SQA: Key moments as the drama unfolded

6th October 2000 at 01:00
Source: written evidence from the Scottish Executive education department to the inquiry.

November 23, 1999 HMI Carolyn Hutchison passed on to Neil MacGowan of the SQA's Higher Still implementation unit concerns which had been raised informally with the Executive about the state of the SQA's systems for handling candidate registrations and results for Higher Still units.March 16, 2000 A meeting of Higher Still co-ordinators discussed problems reported by schools and colleges using both the Phoenix and SEEMIS systems in interfacing with SQA.March 28 Paul Gray, the Executive's deputy director of information technology, met the SQA, then recommended that it should come up with proposals to manage failure in data exchange with schools and colleges, "the area of greatest risk". David Elliot, SQA awards director, emphasised its "arm's length" relationship with the Executive.March 30 Ron Tuck, SQA chief executive, wrote to schools and other exam centres acknowledging the late issuing of internal assessment forms as well as software problems.April 28 SQA gave Executive officials "a generally positive view of progress", but both agreed that "it would be better for results to be late and accurate than on time and inaccurate".May 10 SESQA liaison meeting heard very positive report from the SQA which was "optimistic that the diet will be delivered successfully".June 26 Ron Tuck told Eleanor Emberson at the Scottish Executive that almost 22,000 exam scripts were unallocated to markers or returned unmarked, and there was "a substantial amount of internal assessment data missing from SQA's database".June 27 Executive called in SQA officials to discuss "this alarming situation". Mrs Emberson moved to contact "understandably irritated" authorities to ensure there was a summer holiday contact for each school. Executive offered SQA extra resources and assistance, repeated two days later and on July 17 and 18.July 2 David Elliot of the SQA told the Executive some scripts were "temporarily mislaid".

July 3 SQA told Executive in a conference call that all marking problems were "contained" and marking would be complete by July 11. Executive expressed concern for the first time that certificates might be incomplete because of missing or unchecked data.

July 12 SQA said decision on whether to postpone issuig of results would be taken by July 27. Plans were in hand to deal with "a significant volume" of enquiries from candidates based on assumption that 2 per cent of results would be incorrect.July 14 Executive met SQA to underline ongoing anxiety about contingency planning, publicity and accurate management information.

July 21 A further meeting heard more Executive concerns that missing data and management information had not been provided as promised by the SQA.

July 25 Education Minister met SQA chairman and chief executive and heard the SQA had postponed to August 1 a decision on whether to delay issuing results. Sam Galbraith offered further support, which was refused apart from ensuring schools had contacts for when the results were issued and help with costs of an external audit.July 31 "Urgent meeting" heard from SQA that it had increased its estimate of incorrect or incomplete certificates from 2 to 5 per cent. The next day it estimated 5,000 to 6,000 candidates out of 140,000 would be affected but SQA staff were working to cut this down to below 400.August 3 SQA confirmed August 10 as publication date for results.

August 4 David Miller, SQA chairman, told the Executive a 1 per cent error rate was expected, affecting more than 1,000 candidates, although a subsequent estimate by SQA put the figure at 3,400. The Executive now insisted, against Mr Miller's wishes, that an independent review was "absolutely necessary".August 7 Latest SQA figure was that incomplete data would affect up to around 2,000 candidates.August 8 Reports that the university admissions service did not receive its exam results file from the SQA on time led to a sharp reminder from the Executive that it must be kept up to date with developments.August 910 Results issued. Executive received many phone calls from candidates who did not get their certificates as expected. David Elliot of SQA said all certificates were "in the system", but the authority admitted later that some had not gone out because of last-minute checking.

August 11 The Executive "continued to press the SQA for an accurate estimate of the scale of the problem but it became obvious that the necessary information was not readily available. A set of problems requiring exceptional checking of the accuracy of the results existed".

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today