`We know exactly what we're doing'

SQA dismisses concerns as first pupils prepare to sit Nationals

The chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has made a bullish prediction that this year's exams will go smoothly and be "no different from any other year", despite serious concerns among teachers about the new National courses.

"We're in a really good place from the point of view of moving forward into the exam cycle at the moment, and look forward to lots of happy faces [about results] in August," Janet Brown told TESS before the first National 5 exams began this week.

But teaching unions were sceptical, particularly the EIS which accused the SQA of "hubris". For several months, the unions have highlighted problems with the Nationals relating to workload, communication and support materials, and they have demanded significant improvements by 2014-15.

Kezia Dugdale, Labour's shadow education secretary, suggested earlier this year that a repeat of the issues of 2000 was possible, referring to the crisis following a previous reform when thousands of wrong or late results were sent out and 147,000 certificates had to be rechecked.

But Dr Brown said this "absolutely" could not happen now. "As anybody does, you look at what happened in a previous time and you make sure that you address it. But not only have we addressed it, we've improved," she said.

Many organisations now came to the SQA from home and abroad for inspiration, Dr Brown added. "We're seen as a place that operates very, very efficiently and effectively, and we'll do so again this summer."

She continued: "We know exactly what we're doing.We continuously deliver. We've delivered every single thing to the original schedule that was agreed by the Curriculum for Excellence management board, and not only have we done that we are absolutely bang on schedule for this summer's diet. We anticipate no problems."

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "We don't anticipate any significant problems with the administration and marking of these qualifications, as SQA learned some painful lessons from the debacle of 2000. However, given the very real difficulties and workload that SQA has created for teachers in this first year of the new qualifications, an absence of hubris would be welcome.

"The EIS is clear that changes are needed to unit assessment and the verification processes if we are to avoid a repeat of this year's problems and facilitate the introduction of the new Higher, where it is proceeding."

Alan McKenzie, depute general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "We await with a little trepidation the exam diet. SQA has issued confident statements about what will happen. We hope they are correct. However, our members are still reporting problems. I'm afraid it's `wait and see' now."

NASUWT Scotland president Mike Corbett, who is also an English teacher, said: "The honest answer is that we don't know how the Nationals are going to go. We have done our best to prepare pupils but the variable quality of the verification process means there is a lack of confidence on the part of many teachers in terms of the assessment standards to apply."

Further difficulties were caused by changes made to courses during the year, he added. "My National 5 top set complained last week about having too many internal assessments across their subjects and having to rush to get through the courses, particularly in sciences.

"Personally, I don't think it will be a disaster but I also do not have the same level of confidence about what I have delivered and how the pupils are likely to perform as last year."

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