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Twenty per cent of exam errors in colleges

Neil Munro reports on concern that the growing Higher results debacle could affect FE students' hopes

SCOTTISH further education colleges account for a fifth of the mistaken exam results identified so far by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, The TESS can reveal.

The SQA has sent "exception reports" to 31 of the 46 colleges, indicating that 1,100 candidate entries for the Higher and Certificate of Sixth Year Studies exams were incomplete out of 5,700, which is 3 per cent of the total number of awards. But it is not yet clear how many individual FE students that figure represents.

The colleges need assurances even more quickly than the universities, since students are returning now, not in October. They expect 40,000 to start full-time courses this autumn and another 300,000 to take up part-time studies.

The FE sector is now waiting for the SQA to confirm the accuracy of Standard grade awards and the sub-Higher results at Intermediate level. There is also concern that the Higher National Certificate and Higher National Diploma awards, crucial building blocks in allowing students to move on to university degrees and which are due to be released in the next few days, could be delayed as a result of the chaos.

The Association of Scottish Colleges has given an undertaking that applicants for places will not be disadvantaged if they have incomplete results. "Colleges will help students to start or select courses with whatever results they have now and will not withdraw conditional offers of places from applicants whose results are incomplete or subject to appeal," said Tom Kelly, its chief officer.

Mr Kelly added that it was "just as vital" that the SQA should meet its deadlines for the issue of the Higher National awards, which are given to 50,000 FE students each year.

Graeme Hyslop, principal of Langside College in Glasgow, has around 600 Higher candidates a year, of whom 15 per cent are affected by wrong or incomplete data. His position is that if tudents have had good results and there is a correlation between prelim performance and the final grade as reported, albeit incompletely, the college will accept the student.

Mr Hyslop adds: "Further education is about recruiting students who have not quite made it in any case so, in one sense, this is not a new experience for us."

Douglas Law, depute principal at Fife College, says its message is "come and join us anyway". If there is any problem with students embarking on an inappropriate course or at the wrong level as a result, the college will try to bring them up to the required level or move them into another area of study. "The important thing is to reduce the stress and anxiety for applicants at a time when they are worried enough as it is," Mr Law said.

Janet Lowe, principal of Lauder College, said that by being "student sensitive" the the college was coping well with students awaiting confirmation of Highers to be accepted for Higher National Certificate and Diploma courses. But she fears more trouble when Intermediate and Higher National results are issued in a few weeks.

The ASC has written to college principals saying it has been "lobbying hard to ensure that both Scottish Executive and SQA fully recognise the importance of results for the new intake to FE colleges as well as FE candidates in the summer diet.

"In the extraordinary events of the past week, communications have been unsatisfactory. We hope to see a distinct improvement from this point of view."

The association says "the list of omissions and mishaps (by the SQA) is getting longer". Although mistaken results affect students in three-quarters of the colleges according to the SQA's official revalidation of results, the ASC says some colleges have encountered additional problems such as exam entries not yet processed and missing certificates which the SQA claims to have issued.

"Even now, we just don't know the extent of the failures," a leading FE figure commented.

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