Six hours to point the finger of blame

29th September 2000 at 01:00
The Higher exam results fiasco now seems down to one department, report Neil Munro and David Henderson.

AFTER ALMOST six hours' evidence this week before two parliamentary committees of inquiry, MSPs were still far from reaching firm conclusions about this year's examinations riddle. The finger of blame, however, is hovering over the department formerly run by Jack Greig, head of the Scottish Qualifications Authority operations unit.

Mr Greig was unable, through illness, to appear before the education committee on Wednesday, but submitted a written statement. He began sick leave in June and did not resume his post when he returned in July. He was suspended on August 4, and finally takes early retirement this week after maintaining he took no part in averting the emerging crisis "despite 32 years experience in processing examinations".

Ron Tuck, former SQA chief executive, without naming Mr Greig, said he had no reason to doubt the validity of information from senior officials, with "one exception".

Mr Greig's wife died of cancer last year. He was left with a 10-year-old daughter, a situation that led him to request early retirement before the turn of the year.

Mr Tuck told the education committee he and senior officials were "softer and more tolerant" than they should have been with Mr Greig, a key indication that his department in the old Dalkeith base was largely to blame.

David Elliot, head of awards and another management casualty, was due to meet Mr Greig to "improve his management style" before he went off, according to Mr Tuck.

"The problem," the former chief executive explained, "was missing data. Centres were sending it in and for some reason it was going missing."

Five or six "audit trails" were launched to trace the cause of the issing data but there was no single answer, Mr Tuck revealed. "This was the most inexplicable and frustrating experience of my professional life. We had volumes of missing data and could not find a reason for it."

Mr Tuck told MSPs the root problems were at the old Scottish Examination Board end in Dalkeith and not in the Glasgow headquarters. Throughout the past year, he had no reason to fear that a department that had delivered successfully year after year would fail several thousand students. Most of the difficulties centred on paper-handling, not on computer software. The IT and administration systems should have been able to deal with increased data.

But he accepted "some staff in the operations unit were not adequately trained for the task" of handling the new Higher Still complexities.

Mr Tuck defended his actions over the past year and said implementing the new exam system virtually in only one year was "difficult but do-able". He would have advised ministers not to proceed if he had thought it was not possible to meet certification on time.

"I would have to say the venture was risky and it was my job to say it was risky and we did not do this," he continued.

Despite repeated attempts by Opposition MSPs to finger Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, and his senior officials, there was largely confirmatory evidence from the SQA board and Mr Tuck about the limited powers and role of the Scottish Executive.

Mr Tuck reiterated his view, first revealed to The TES Scotland, that he knew nothing of the scale of the difficulties until August 10, the day pupils were due to receive their results. He now says he would have recommended a two-week delay in sending out results if he had known the full picture.

Leader, page 16

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