Shortage of markers worries head

30th March 2001 at 01:00
Reassurances from the chief of the SQA have not been enough to allay fears, reports Raymond Ross.

The shortage of exam markers coupled with delays and glitches at the Scottish Qualifications Authority are worrying Eric Allan, headteacher of St Michael's Academy in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, despite the fact that his school "came off lightly" in last year's exam chaos.

"The proof will be in the pudding, no doubt, but the shortage of markers is seriously worrying," he says.

It's not simply the widely reported shortfall in the number of markers - at the last count around 2,000 still to be appointed - that troubles Mr Allan, but his own school's experience.

"We had a music practical examiner come out two weeks ago, but he hadn't been sent the right exam. So the pupil's practical was postponed. It's not just that that puts extra pressure on the pupil - he's a capable enough lad and should do all right - but it is a sign that things are not 100 per cent at the SQA."

Last year St Michael's results were late and had to be downloaded electronically to meet with the demands of pupils' telephone calls. Twice as many appeals as normal were lodged and 10 were taken on in an appeal against the appeals for Intermediate maths.

"We appealed the second time because all they had done was put each candidate up a grade, across the board, despite the different levels of evidence submitted. They wouldn't accept the second appeal."

This year the school is resenting 170 Standard grade candidates and 150 Higher and Intermediate. The forms for submitting estimates of pupils' grades arrived at the school on March 19 - about the same as last year - but these had to be filled in and returned to the SQA by March 29. Mr Allan feels a return to the JanuaryFebruary deadline of the old system would ease pressure on teachers.

"It's not just Higher Still estimates, but now Standard grades and the old Revised Highers estimates are also delayed to March. Everything has been put back since the merger of the SQA and Higher Still.

"And estimates come back listed by candidate numbers rather than alphabetical order, which makes checking them very time consuming."

The school's SQA account manager is "reasonably helpful" and communications are generally better, says Mr Allan, but in general there are still delays and problems. Despite recent reassurances from SQA chief executive Bill Morton at the Headteachers Association of Scotland's spring conference a fortnight ago, Mr Allan retains his worries.

"Is it the computer system or what's being fed into it? I don't know, but at least the SQA is aware of these problems and delays in a way that they were not last year. But can they solve them in time?"

If your school is experiencing problems, or great improvements, with the SQA, please email details to or write to ScotlandPlus, TES Scotland, 10 South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AZ

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