Tidal wave of appeals

1st September 2000 at 01:00
Concern mounts that SQA's estimate of one in five increase in exam challenges is 'ludicrously low'

THE Scottish Qualifications Authority is anticipating a 20 per cent increase in "urgent" appeals from schools on behalf of aggrieved exam candidates.

But education authorities fear this estimate could be "ludicrously low" since schools have reported a surge of anything between three to 10 times last year's figure of 47,627. Schools were asked to notify the SQA of their intention to appeal by yesterday (Thursday).

Evidence to support appeals should be submitted by Sunday for those who sat Highers and the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies; the outcome is promised by September 20. Appeals from Standard grade and Intermediate III candidates will be processed as soon as possible thereafter.

The administration of the appeals was agreed at a three-way meeting last Friday involving the SQA, the Scottish Executive Education Department and the Association of Directors of Education. The likely volume of appeals remains unclear, however, and the ADES sent a letter to all 32 authorities this week asking them for accurate estimates from schools.

Gordon Jeyes, the association's general secretary, said: "I doubt that schools and authorities will be able to resist parental pressure and that appeals will therefore be sent in that would not normally be sent in".

Friday's meeting agreed that appeals need not be based solely on estimates of performance from schools, but also "where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of the result even after data validation checks have been completed".

All three parties emphasised, however, that "appeals will be scrupulously fair, to the same high standard and rigour as in previous years".

Last year's appeals total for Highers and CSYS was 18,088, to which the SQA's 20 per cent estimate would add another 3,600. But only 5,875 were successful, indicating that there has always been a gulf between schools and examiners over final grades. Standard grade appeals last year reached 29,539 of which 15,911 were successful.

The SQA has allocated around a dozen staff to process the appeals and the special helpline will still be available. Once an accurate indication has been obtained, appeals panels of teachers will be selected and ministers have agreed to meet the costs of supply cover to release staff from the classroom.

The SQA has now started to scrutinise Standard rade marks and has decided that results of 4,264 candidates out of the 60,000 who sat the exam will be rechecked. Discrepancies affecting 2,000 of those were expected to be cleared up quickly by mid-week and the remainder by early next week.

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, will face MSPs next Wednesday on the Parliament's first day back after the summer recess as he makes a statement on the crisis and takes questions.

Mr Galbraith, who has written to all MSPs setting out the history of the saga, is expected to pen them another letter and his statement will reiterate his own astonishment and anger as events unfolded. He will also repeat his determination not to bow to Opposition calls for his head, but to remain at his desk to ensure the problems are sorted out.

The statement will also announce the name of the consultants who have been selected to carry out the independent inquiry into the conduct of this year's exams. They will be given up to eight weeks to report.

Mr Galbraith is also under pressure to convene a meeting of the Higher Still liaison group to see whether changes to the assessment regime are necessary for next year's exams. The group is normally headed by Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, currently on a much publicised working holiday to Australia.

Bill Morton, the SQA's acting chief executive, has also announced the terms of an operational review which will cover "processes, structures and behaviours" within the authority. It is expected to take a month and will feed into the Executive's inquiry.

Mr Morton commented: "It goes without saying that the status quo for this organisation is not an option. My review will cover the processes we have in place here, how the organisation is structured and issues like leadership, management, communications and the extent to which staff are working together to deliver an excellent service for our young people."

The crisis has now claimed another scalp as the SQA confirmed this week that David Elliot, head of its awards division, had resigned, following the departure of Ron Tuck, the former chief executive. Jack Greig, head of operations charged with "the secure conduct of examinations", is to face a disciplinary inquiry although he has already been granted early retirement.

Marker's view, page 4

Leader, Platform, page 12

School view, ScotlandPlus

The Sweeney, ScotlandPlus

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