When the dust settles

13th October 2000 at 01:00
MARTIN VERITY, clerk to the Parliament's education committee, has a most unenviable task - writing the first draft report into the examinations crisis. As MSPs take an autumn breather, evidence continues to pour in. Teacher unions, local authorities, parents, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, further education colleges, universities and others have chipped in their grievances and solutions. Members have listened to hours of evidence from witnesses and have more to come before the end of the month. So what have they established?

There are two clear views. One is narrow, the other more expansive and damaging. First, there is HM Inspectors' view, partly shared by Ron Tuck, the departed SQA chief executive. Higher Still was a tough call but achievable and largely delivered. Unfortunately, an administrative botch-up no one foresaw - not least Mr Tuck - dashed any hopes of an easier exit for the first year of the troubled post-16 examinations. Yetthe bulk of the system worked for a substantial majority, much as it has for decades previously. Higher Still courses and assessment worked. Fine-tuning and changes to the SQA's management will hopefully sort the remaining difficulties.

The second view is equally clear. As the Scottish Parent Teacher Council put it, Higher Still was a train rushing out of control, doomed to hit the buffers. It was remarkable so many students were not affected. The inherent complexities were repeatedly ignored because of the political imperative to push ahead. Problems were apparent throughout the year, starting with candidates' entries to the SQA last autumn, leaving the train behind from then on.

Moderation failed, recruitment of markers was delayed, marking was delayed, quality assurance rushed and eventually the system crashed at its weakest point, resulting in over 16,000 casualties. Mr Verity's task is to prepare the ground for the fall guys.


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