Highers chief promises reforms

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The Independent Online

The interim head of the beleaguered Scottish exams regulator insisted yesterday that "gold standard" qualifications remained sound despite the fiasco over this year's results.

The interim head of the beleaguered Scottish exams regulator insisted yesterday that "gold standard" qualifications remained sound despite the fiasco over this year's results.

Bill Morton admitted that confidence in the Scottish exam system had been dented but said public faith would return.

Speaking four weeks after he was drafted in as chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Mr Morton insisted the problems that produced thousands of incorrect Higher and Standard grade results last month could be corrected in time for the next exams in May.

He said measures to allow schools to verify results would be put in place to prevent a repeat of last month's events.

"The problems of administration should not be construed as undermining the education system or the awards system," he said. "I know confidence has been dented but I would like to think that employers, universities and colleges will have as much faith in the awards as in the past.

"My own view is that the problems within the SQA are poor information management that have given rise to concerns. That is regrettable. I do not believe that it is a safe conclusion to reach that the Highers or indeed the examination system has been damaged."

Despite the problems, Mr Morton said, only 4 per cent of Highers and 1 per cent of Standards results had been affected. All confirmed results were sound and of the same standard as previous years.

Mr Morton said staff were preparing to clear the backlog of exam appeals, estimated to be more than twice the norm, before Christmas. Priority would be given to students in need of accurate results for university or college entry.

But he said officials wereworking to solve the problems of lost results that caused last month's chaos. Schools would be able to check data as it was produced, and headteachers would be given "account executives" to liaise with the exam board.

Mr Morton said he was already acting on the results of an inquiry into the crisis, ahead of separate inquiries launched by the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Morton, who arrived at the SQA just days after the extent of the problems with this year's exams became clear, said staff had worked as quickly as possible to verify and correct the marking. Future success would depend on the SQA's ability to offer a reliable and open service, he said.

But senior figures in the Scottish education system warned that it might take years to restore faith in the exam system, once the envy of the world.

Ann Hill, chief executive of the Scottish School Boards Association, said: "There's no confidence left. You ask any teacher or student today, 'Do you have confidence in the exam system?' and they say no. There's no faith and there's a huge repair job to do."

Mr Morton said the SQA"shared the same sense of shock" as the rest of Scotland as the affair unfolded. But, he said, there was no insoluble problem. "A number of things did go wrong and they all can be solved," he said.

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