Scotland's beleagured examiners, desperately seeking to regain public confidence after last year's fiasco over incorrect results, were forced to apologise again yesterday after mistakenly putting out figures which suggested a big rise in pass rates.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority, which was at the centre of a blunder in which thousands of students were given incorrect and incomplete certificates, said it had been wrong in claiming that this year's pass rate in the Scottish Highers exam had increased by 7.1 per cent.
The SQA said an earlier communication had not compared this year's pass rate of 72.4 per cent with last year's true overall pass rate of 71.1per cent, a marginal rise – but with an incorrect figure of 65.3per cent, the pass rate calculated for the same day last year.
The apology masked the fact that the SQA had pulled all the stops out to make sure that 99 per cent of candidates did get their results accurately and on time this year.
It led to a political row with Michael Russell, education spokesman for the Scottish National Party, claiming the mix-up had made a "near farce" of the results.
"Even after spending more than £11m of emergency funding, the SQA is still unable to secure the confidence of Scotland, still less the confidence of young people, parents and teachers it exists to serve." This latest mistake, he said, proved the SQA was still "overburdened by bureaucracy".
The SQA said the mistake, issued in its publicity on this year's results, had come to light after Scottish Education Minister Jack McConnell asked the authority to double-check the figure.
Earlier, he had faced media questions over the apparent 7 per cent increase, with many suggesting marking standards must have been more lenient to bring about such a big rise.
Mr McConnell described the mistake as "minor" and welcomed the real pass rate, calling it "very good".
Despite the embarrassment, the authority was cautiously optimistic yesterday that they had avoided a repetition of last year's fiasco – when students about to go to university were issued with the wrong results.
However, Scottish Conservative education Brian Monteith, while welcoming the improved pass rate, added: "I am concerned that the SQA has failed Higher Maths."
A-level results for around a quarter of a million youngsters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are expected to show another rise in the pass rate, are due to be published tomorrow.
This year, for the first time, the exam boards will be giving a regional breakdown of the results achieved by pupils.