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Ward admits there's still a long way to go

The exam system is set for three more years of uncertainty as the SQA struggles to get it right, reports Neil Munro

THE depth of the crisis facing the Scottish Qualifications Authority was laid bare this week when Professor John Ward, the interim chairman, revealed it would take three years to implement an action plan that could guarantee it was fully capable of running the exam system.

But at the first of what are planned to be monthly "warts-and-all" media briefings, Professor Ward denied that this amounted to a case of "in three years we'll get it right but for next year we'll just do our best".

Crammed into a room overflowing with media cameras, microphones and bacon rolls, Professor Ward and Bill Morton, the interim chief executive, faced a generally hostile press and were forced to admit that enormous problems are still besetting the organisation.

The most basic and immediately embarrassing slip-up was the revelation that 187 schools and other centres out of 567 had not registered candidates for next year's exams despite a reminder being sent out to have data submitted by Monday. The closing date should have been November 20. A third deadline of Decmber 22 has now been set.

The SQA refuses to apportion blame, although Mr Morton did say pointedly that the running of the national exams required "a diligence bargain" between schools and the SQA. He added that another reminder would be issued to directors of education and said the new SQA account managers, who have already visited 330 schools, will chase up the missing registrations.

Professor Ward admitted this would cause problems and have a "cascading effect" if other troubles emerged later in the year, a prospect he could not rule out. Mr Morton said he was "a little surprised and a little disappointed".

While the SQA was coy about the real reason for the problem, Gordon Mackenzie, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, pinned the blame on the continuing difficulties experienced by schools in operating the Phoenix administration system to pass information electronically to the SQA. But he felt that steps were now being taken to resolve matters.

Ironically in view of the SQA's troubles, the significance of the missing registrations cannot be gauged because no comparable information is available for the same time last year.

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