Unions spell out catalogue of grievances

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

'It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this year's disaster was in part due to the complexities of the new exam system'

EVIDENCE from the teaching unions to the education committee's inquiry details four problems - assessment burdens imposed by Higher Still, flaws in the basic mechanics of operating this year's exams, management changes within the Scottish Qualifications Authority and a consistent refusal to heed teachers' warnings.

The Educational Institute of Scotland wants an examinations council independent of the SQA and directly responsible to the Parliament to avoid a repeat disaster. But one principal teacher close to the operation of this year's exams who gave evidence on Wednesday (above) believes some fundamental problems may remain.

The EIS said schools faced "extraordinary pressure" from the complexities surrounding Higher Still. The demands of setting examinations, visiting examiners, central moderation, visiting moderation, marking, computer checks, the appeals system and data collection and processing were "consistently underestimated by government, both national and local", the union states in its written evidence.

It believes this was compounded by problems of the SQA's own making such as the late appointment of markers which led to an administrative shambles and was "an unprecedented disaster".

The EIS dos not want the SQA to be axed or have its name changed since it suggests the problems were centred on the management of the exams and Higher Still. "The SQA has successfully run previous diets of examinations," the union states. "It is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that this year's disaster was in part due to the complexities of the new exam system."

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association also highlighted the problems of missing and mishandled data. It made constant representations to HMI, senior Executive officials and ministers, but was "repeatedly accused of pandering to the unwillingness of teachers to embrace change".

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers underlines the same issues and suggests there was a Government blind spot over Higher Still whose time-scale was "politically driven and educational arguments were discounted as obstruction".

The Headteachers' Association of Scotland complains about data mismanagement, the organisation and reliability of marking, bad communication with the SQA and the role of internal assessment in Higher Still.

It suggests the exam diet should finish by June 1 to ensure that any future problems do not have to be dealt with during the holidays. It is also making a plea, which has not surfaced significantly so far, that the exams crisis has cast such doubts over the reliability of the results that target-setting data should be suspended for this year.

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