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Where it all went wrong at the SQA

The exams fiasco post-mortem doesn't spare any blushes, reports Neil Munro.

THE independent report on what went wrong at the Scottish Qualifications Authority concludes in effect that the mismanagement of assessment data was the result of internal problems rather than the cause.

The report by consultants Deloitte and Touche paints a picture of an organisation so fatally flawed virtually from inception that it was incapable of coping with a crisis. Without sustained effort by the SQA staff, "the levels of inaccurate and incomplete results would have been greater".

In his response, Ron Tuck, the SQA's former chief executive, suggested Deloitte and Touche had portrayed an idealised, textbook model of an organisation which took no account of financial and political realities or the constraints imposed from the outside.

Unveiling the report last Friday, Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, said he was "appalled by the scale of the organisational failure". In an unprecedented move, he has accepted the resignation of David Miller, the SQA's chairman, and put on hold the resignations of all the other members of the 24-strong board pending legal advice. A minimum of 15 board members is needed and there are also rules governing appointments to quangos.

There will, however, be a more streamlined board, Mr McConnell said, although no final decisions will be taken until he has studied the report from the Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee which is looking at the "governance" of the SQA.

He has also promised to consult Brian Monteith and Michael Russell, the education spoesmen for the Tories and SNP, before making appointments in the new year. Interim appointments from the existing members will be put in place until then.

Mr McConnell has confirmed he is taking over ministerial responsibility for the SQA from the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department, as reported last week, which could make him politically vulnerable unless the problems are sorted out for next year's exam diet. He has already identified as his top priority that next year's results should be "accurate and on time", acknowledging fears that the 2001 exams might not be trouble-free.

Mr McConnell is also demanding an action plan from the SQA within two weeks, detailing how it intends complying with the 33 recommendations of the Deloitte and Touche report. The authority will have to submit progress reports to him every month and he will report to Parliament regularly.

In addition Mr McConnell has set up an early warning system in the form of a ministerial review group, which will include parents and teachers, to alert him directly if there is any slippage.

The burden of drawing up the recovery plan will now fall on Bill Morton, the interim chief executive, and John Ward, who has been appointed as stopgap chairman. Professor Ward, former head of IBM in Scotland, chaired the former Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets as well as the CBI's education committee and the CBI itself.

Mr McConnell said he had given Mr Morton an assurance that "he can step on any toes he wants to deliver this and he will have my full backing, and the same applies to John Ward".

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