Trail of glitches that led to a loss of faith

6th October 2000 at 01:00
David Henderson and Neil Munro report on the latest exchanges as Holyrood continues to probe the exams fiasco

"WE realised something was wrong when deadlines started slipping," Andrew Shanks, principal English teacher at Montrose Academy, says.

It was not just the complexities which caused problems, but "the things which went like clockwork in the past with boring regularity, such as the appointment of markers and the issuing of flysheets which the SQA issues for schools to accompany the data they are submitting".

Each year's examinations involve a two-year rolling programme and there was no evidence that this year's diet had got this under way, according to Mr Shanks, who chairs the SQA's English assessment panel.

He says that the late appointment of markers, who were not invited to apply until March instead of February, was a critical failure, particularly when they were then faced with inaccurate presentation lists of exam candidates because of the data management problems.

The eventual shortfall in the numbers led the SQA to give markers more and more scripts, which some refused. "The result was that scripts, which are normally bundled up by invigilators in schools and sent to the SQA for transmission to markers, simply lay in the Dalkeith offices waiting to be matched to markers, Mr Shanks says.

He also criticised the decision to contract out the inputting of assessment data which, in his subject, affected the Higher Still unit 3 in English - the main unit hit by missing data. Attempts by schools to interface their IT systems with that of the SQA were also fraught with problems. "There may be computer-related reasons for that but to me it simply smacks of incompetence."

Mr Shanks is still far from confident the SQA has sorted out its problems. "Even as we speak, the flysheets for CSYS and the Advanced Higher, which are essential to accompany pupils' choices of topic for their sixth-year dissertations and should have been in schools in June, are still waiting in Dalkeith to be posted.

"The reason we have been given is that none will be issued until all are ready. The deadline for dissertations to be approved was October 1 so it means pupils cannot get started on their work. This may seem a small matter but I hope that, unlike this year, is does not reflect part of the next exams fiasco."

Mr Shanks said that schools had lost faith in the SQA's competence to operate the practical mechanics of the system. "In past years, whatever we might have thought of the SQA or its predecessors, the one area which they were good at was the running of the examinations."

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