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Winners and losers

THE PARLIAMENT'S education committee should not feel too upset. Its guns have been spiked but it has still won territory by applying a new strategy which may come to influence Scottish politics. The report on the exams debacle lost point as soon as Sam Galbraith was moved from the education portfolio and his successor, Jack McConnell, took away the Inspectorate's powers to make independent policy.

Yet the fact that there was a political imperative to pre-empt the findings of the backbenchers indicates the power of parliamentary committees. Indirectly, in so far as the committees have listened to and acted upon evidence from interest groups - in this case, including pupils as well as directors of education - democracy is the beneficiary.

The education committee's report, like that of the lifelong learning committee last week, pins blame where most people have adjudged it to lie.

The attempt by the SNP to contine to make capital by pursuing a ministerial scalp will convince no one. Fundamentally, the Scottish Qualifications Authority could not measure up to the complexities of a new exam system at the same time as coping with new computer software. That was a failure of professional management, to which has to be added the obtuseness of the Inspectorate in ignoring teachers' complaints that Higher Still procedures had become too complex and, put to the test, were falling apart.

It is no fault of assiduous MSP inquisitors that their report has been largely overtaken before its publication. There is still value in that if it focuses minds on the way ahead instead of continuing to apportion blame.

The signs for next year's diet of exams are not reassuring. Teachers, with their confidence in the SQA shattered, see this session's problems going as unanswered as last year's. Marj Adams's tale opposite is disturbing.

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