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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
A head's exams results nightmare
Exams graphic
Norrie Mackay is head teacher at Coatbridge High School in North Lanarkshire.

He, his staff and his pupils, past and present, have been caught up by this year's Scottish exams results chaos.

Here, BBC News Online Scotland takes extracts from his diary of woe.

Dear diary ...

During the school year there were many problems with data being input. The requests from SQA to repeat data entry, and error messages generated due to processing difficulties at the SQA end, resulted in many additional hours of work for our SQA co-ordinator and principal teachers.

July: During the month, 68 pages listing "missing data" was sent to us from SQA seeking a response within 48 hours.

After many hours of work, the office staff phoned the SQA for advice on a few points and were amazed when they were told not to bother returning data as the information might turn up at the SQA.

10 August: Results day - no results were received and there was no advance notice that this would be the case.

Many staff had had a wasted journey to school and we were unable to help pupils and parents with enquiries.

I phoned the SQA who said that all their efforts had gone into producing the candidates' certificates, but that I should receive a print out on Monday.

11 August: We were able to download the material to print individual results on Friday morning. Subject results could be printed for Standard Grade but not for Highers.

The computer told us we had not presented any pupils for Highers. Inconsistencies and worrying signs were immediately evident.

  • 43 out of 70 S-Grade Computing Studies results were "no awards"

  • 25% of S-Grade Office and Information Studies results were "no grade"

  • Some pupils had course awards at Higher but no unit passes listed

  • Some pupils had external assessment grade but had not taken the exam
14 August: Monday came, but the print-out didn't.

15 August: I received a phone call at the school from my contact person at the SQA.

She asked if I could give her a note of all discrepancies at Highers within 24 hours. I said I had no print-out. This surprised her, but she promised to have it sent out by first class post.

I promised to do my best to respond by Wednesday afternoon. I asked how I could identify mistakes - what "true" version could I compare the print-out with? I was asked to use my judgement.

16 August: By 8.30am there was no print out in the post. My SQA contact person said she would get it sent by courier. It would be there by 10am. It arrived at 11.30am, 400 pages of print-out in no discernible order.

It took several hours to sort the pages into alphabetical order by year group.

Pupils were asked to bring in their certificates the next morning as we still had no idea what was on them

Norrie Mackay
It became apparent that the document was not the same as candidates' certificates. Pupils were coming in for interview for S5/6 classes. Their certificates showed "no award" for S-Grade Computing Studies, but our print-out showed awards of various kinds had been made since their certificates had been printed.

It seems that some "missing data" had been updated but nobody had told the candidates. We had no idea what was printed on our pupils' certificates.

Despite this, a fax was sent to SQA on Wednesday afternoon asking that two categories of results at Higher be investigated in their validation exercise - all "no awards" and all cases where the pupils' result was two or more ranges lower than the school's estimate.

All names, candidate numbers and other relevant details were listed for them in this second category.

17 August: A phone call on Thursday morning said that three of the 30 cases in the second category had been investigated but were found to be error-free - I should consider appealing for them. I was told that the process was slow-going.

18 Friday: At 4.22am a fax was sent to the school listing the results of the SQA's validation.

None of the cases I had sent to them appeared. Instead, 17 pupils with Intermediate 2 results in Information System and English and Communication appeared.

During the schools' In-Service day I gave all principal teachers the individual results at Higher level and asked them to trawl through them over the weekend in an attempt to identify suspicious results.

21 August: A letter was given to S5/6 pupils at a special assembly to tell them and their parents what the school had already done and what we proposed to do further.

Pupils were asked to bring in their certificates the next morning as we still had no idea what was on them.

22 August: S5/6 pupils brought in their certificates and we photocopied them. We gave them a copy of what our print-out said about them.

23 August: The entire day on was taken up by comparing our print-out with each pupils' certificate.

Not all pupils had brought their certificate in and we could not check leavers from last year's S4, 5 or 6.

The SQA contact person phoned. I asked if the 60 or so cases referred last Wednesday had been checked. She said that all pupils performing two or more ranges worse than our estimate had been checked, but no errors had been found and appeals should be considered.

However, she had not been able to check any of the 30 cases in the "no award" category. It seems that the SQA database cannot be interrogated by asking for a listing of the conditions Coatbridge High School, Higher or no award.

If I wanted to pursue this I would have to supply the details of every individual candidate.

There seems to be a problem in understanding codes used on the print out. The accompanying note lists two kinds of "no awards" at Higher

  • If a seven, eight, or nine is printed under the heading band this means that the pupil has passed all units but failed the exam.

  • If nothing is printed under the band then the pupil has failed units. This doesn┐t seem to be the case.

24 August: Most of the day was occupied by pulling together the information gained from the trawl on Wednesday and information provided by principal teachers.

In all, almost 70 students seem to have suspect results based on missing data alone, leaving aside the question of those disadvantaged by unreliable marking.

This represents about one third of those presented in S4/5/6. Many problems related to Standard Grade, Computing Studies and Office Information Studies and at Higher with Information Systems, Accounting and Finances and English and Communication.

More confusion has been caused by about 10 pupils or so who the SQA says were presented by us but whom we have never heard

Norrie Mackay
Many pupils have received "no awards" due to missing data. Mostly these are internal assessments lost by the SQA, but there are also examples of the external exam result going missing.

In one case, pupils for Information Systems at Intermediate 2 who only took two free-standing units were given a grade 9 for an exam they never took.

Further confusion has arisen from complete print-out of results being sent to us for pupils from consortium schools, who took one subject with us. In the executive's tables of exam results, which school will be credited with them?

Yet more confusion has been caused by about 10 pupils or so who the SQA says were presented by us but whom we have never heard.

We are not sure how many pupils did not receive results on 10 August. Only four contacted us to report this problem, at least six received two sets of results on different days. Luckily, in each case both sets were identical.

30 August: We receive another fresh set of results - the only problem is they belong to another school.

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