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What is different this year

With more candidates doing Intermediate 1 and 2, and the introduction of Advanced Higher for the first time, there are 140,000 candidates and 740,000 course entries as of last week. Last year there were 42,000 course entries for Intermediate 1 and 2; this year there are 85,000-90,000. For the new Advanced Higher there are about 7,000 entries.

u The SQA operations unit which carried out a range of tasks and responsibilities and took the brunt of the blame last year, no longer exists. Data processing has been ring-fenced in a new data management unit that includes certification and testing software developments. To avoid competing priorities, separate teams, in Dalkeith and Glasgow, deal with schools and colleges respectively.

"The number of people employed in data processing is much greater than before. Last year it was woefully under-resourced," says Billy MacIntyre.

* Changes have been made in the way candidates are registered, and course details and results entered. Once a third-year candidate at school is registered on the system and allocated a unique Scottish Candidate Number, his details will be there throughout the lifelong learning process. One virtue of the Higher Still framework, says Colin Urie, is that once an individual is on the system, the entry process is the same through Advanced Higher and on to further education.

* Around 70,000-80,000 new registrations have to be entered in any one year. It's a lot simpler this year, says Mr Urie, because persoal details for Secondary 5 and 6 pupils were already on the system from last year and the year before.

* Critical changes have been made in the way data is handled. "Now the processes for handling, tracking and recording data are much more robust," says Mr MacIntyre. "The clear evidence this year is where we are now.

"Last year we had a significant number of entries that were entered twice. This year they can't be entered twice: we've firmed up on the input controls."

* This year confirmation reports are being sent back to exam centres. Last year a school might send a file with 1,000 entries and in some cases received no confirmation. Only errors were reported back. Now every entry and amendment is sent straight back to schools and colleges to check.

u Every exam centre now has its own account manager at the SQA, who deals directly with them and handles any reported problems. That did not exist last year.

* Last year the final deadline for internal assessments was the end of June. "That was too late," says Mr Urie. This year it is the end of May, which will allow the SQA to send eligibility reports back to exam centres in early June. These will match up internal and external results and give the position for each candidate, showing if any will not pass courses if the school, for example, has not submitted the results of a unit assessment.

"If there are gaps, it gives us the chance to sort them out and resolve problems while staff are around."

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