'Short, sharp' cure to rescue exams

20th October 2000 at 01:00
THE Scottish Qualifications Authority is today (Friday) moving to eliminate the major data problems that led to the exam results mayhem by tightening deadlines and redoubling checks with schools and colleges.

At the centre of the SQA's plans is a "short, sharp" consultation on bringing forward the final date by which unit assessment details for Higher Still courses must be submitted. It is pressing for May 1 - a date it believes will benefit centres and itself - leaving a full two weeks for scrutiny before the first external exams. Students in schools would sit their final units in April. Colleges would retain their flexibility.

Among other measures, the authority has announced plans to press ahead with the controversial winter diet of exams in January 2002, primarily to meet the demands of FE colleges. Only a limited number of courses will be involved. Ministers have given their backing.

To ease congestion next summer, the two major subjects - English and communication and maths - will be moved into the first week of the exam timetable alongside Standard grade exams. Art and design will also be moved up to the first week.

Neil MacGowan, new head of the SQA's operations unit in Dalkeith, apologised for the delay in revealing the revised schedule. "Your patience and understanding is appreciated," he says in a letter to schools released today. P> A key priority, Mr MacGowan said, was the plan to have unit data submitted by May 1. It has already been agreed in the Higher Still liaison group that centres need only supply one batch of information on unit passes. More radical measures may be revealed next year.

In the short term, the authority is determined not to repeat the log-jam involving 4.3 million pieces of data that enmeshed it in June and July. By targeting May 1 - several weeks before last session's final date - the SQA hopes to give itself extra time to recheck before external exams. Changes will not affect stand-alone units.

The SQA hopes that fresh advice on candidates' registration and course entry data should ease the pressures that led to the problems with belated recruitment of markers last session. Schools are being urged to register their new candidates - primarily 60,000 pupils in S3 - from November 1 and ensure all information is sent by November 20. One form has been cut out. Duplicate entries, particularly from colleges, caused confusion last year.

Information about course entries should be submitted between November 20 and December 22, leaving the SQA three weeks in January to check data with centres.

The deadline is later this year than last because of the problems but information entry should be simpler and less open to error, Mr MacGowan believes.

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