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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Testing times for Scottish education
The year 2000 will be remembered as the year of Scotland's great exams fiasco.
There have been daily stories of confusion about incorrect grades, missing grades, phantom exams and the race for university places.
Where has it left you? After the Scottish Qualifications Authority ran a "validation" check on its data, are you confident of your results? Were you offered a place at university? Are you having to resit?
And what of Scotland's much-vaunted education system? Is it still credible or has it been damaged beyond repair?
As a teacher in Scotland, I am horrified that the SQA fiasco has occurred. But as a teacher who was called into school during the holidays to re-send standard grade results, I am doubly annoyed that the results confirmations that we received back from SQA HQ were wrong! This was after submitting them (correctly) twice! As they say, this one will run and run!
It has been said that the Scottish Executive will fund extra places at universities for those students who have failed to gain a place at the University and course of their choice because of failings at the SQA. This itself raises questions.
Will Scottish and English Universities be prepared to increase the number of student places on degree courses? Universities may not have the resources in place to accomodate extra students for the coming academic year.
Some popular universities may find themselves under criticism for taking on Scottish students under these particular circumstances whilst seen denying places to other UK students.
I think what we are seeing are panic measures by the Scottish Executive as they stumble over their own feet to find a solution to these ongoing problems.
Concerns are now being voiced about inexperienced markers being drafted in.
As a recent graduate I am aware that some of my colleagues had been marking papers in the rush to reach the result deadline.
To my knowledge not one of them had any marking or teaching experience. This cannot be standard practice for the SQA, can it?
Strong doubts are now being cast upon the validity of those grades that have been or will be sent out.
Anecdotal evidence is emerging that exam scripts may have been incorrectly marked and that measures to ensure adequate quality control have been compromised.
Recently there have been a number of reports of inexperienced markers being drafted in at short notice and of post-marking quality checks not being properly conducted.
Couple this with comments from teachers that a higher than normal proportion of students have received poorer than expected results and one is left with little confidence in the workings of the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Clearly an independent enquiry is necessary at a later stage but what must happen immediately is that all the examination papers are sent out to schools for re-marking.
A drastic and expensive measure, certainly, but it is the only way in which the SQA can begin to re-establish any credibility and it is the only way that anxious students can be assured they have been treated fairly.
The future for Scottish education should be a new education minister - the fact that he is still in place is simply unbelievable!
We need a guarantee that our education system is not going to be compromised in the future just for the sake of trying to gain a few votes - in the end justice is served as I hope Labour lose every seat they have because of it.
I'm still waiting on my apology from Ron Tuck and Sam Galbraith - I won't hold my breath.
If this is how the government plans to implement its policy of "education, education, education" then I am happy I'm no longer a part of it.
My sympathy goes to those who have to sit Highers next year - God help you!
Education authorities pay the SQA for each candidate entered on a course. In view of the SQA's failure to deliver an effective service, should it not now be required to repay a proportion of these fees?
Perhaps the authorities could use the money to pay for new certificates issued by schools showing candidates' estimated grades.
It is clear that universities now believe these to be more reliable than SQA certificates.
The young people now starting fifth and sixth year cannot wait for an inquiry to report - they need action now.
I cannot see how the system can cope with the appeals from the 2000 exams and get it right for the candidates for the 2001 exams.
The only solution I can see is to bring back the old Higher and CSYS for 2001 and onwards, until there is an alternative which is workable.
In reply to Jim who was complaining that Scotvec had caused these problems, I would remind him that Scotvec had an immaculate reputation with colleges and training providers and it was only the merger with SEB which caused all the problems now being witnessed.
This problem was well known in March when I attended a meeting of examiners in Dalkeith for SYS French. The problem was that Higher Still was pushed through by politicians, including Galbraith, who ignored the advice of the EIS and SSTA about the crazy speed of implementation of Higher Still.
I feel very let down by the system. I have a daughter who has just sat her highers and is heart broken over the way things have been handled and one who is due to sit her highers next year who is concerned about things already.
The one who has sat her highers is so petrified that she is frightened to check her marks and says she will wait until she goes back as she was so upset over her marks.
I think that Sam Galbraith should resign as he does not know of the true distress this has caused.
He says that no student will be penalised, yet no marks are being lowered on papers that were incorrect.
I think that this is all wrong and that every certificate should be readjusted and each individual paper reaxamined so that an accurate certificate can be issued.
My children were not involved in the exam fiasco. However, I am still very angry at the appalling mess that the SQA have made.
I want to point out that it is not only the families involved who are disgusted.
Has anyone noticed that it only seems to be the Scottish people who are putting their comments forward? This should be a British discussion.
Higher Still is a total farce. Even its name is utterly ridiculous so I'm not surprised at this botch-up.
I'm intigued that Robert thinks this should be a British discussion. They don't do Highers in England, Wales or Northern Ireland so I don't see what this shambles has got to do with them.
In any case this year's A-level students are all busy getting ready for university while the Higher students don't even know if their results are correct.
This whole episode has made Scotland look utterly stupid and incompetent. Whoever is responsible for this mess should be utterly ashamed of themselves.
Two years ago some of my school teachers were afraid that Higher Still would not be ready to be implemented successfully. It appears their suspicions were correct.
The Scottish education system is now in serious danger of becoming a joke.
Mr Galbraith has already used Ron Tuck as a fall guy - but he has not convinced the public that he is the man to solve the problem, mainly due to the fact that he is the problem.
The media coverage of the recent problems with the exam results has largely focused on Highers.
However, having received my standard grade results this year, I know that there are problems in this area as well.
I think that many consider Highers to be more important, as they decide on whether or not a student can go to university. Whilst this is certainly of concern, standard grades directly affect the higher courses which pupils can sit.
I received seven grade 1s and a grade 3 in mathematics - this grade three is an obvious mistake as my marks in the estimate exam were 93% (knowledge and understanding) and 96% (reasoning and application) and I had never received a general grade in maths before this point.
I later learned that 10 pupils in a row (by alphabetical order) had been given 3s in maths, and that exam papers are sent off in packets of 10, leading me to believe that there was a problem with one packet. There are several other standard grade problems which I know of, and I know of one identical problem (albeit in Biology) at another school.
This is not a problem for me, as the school will allow me to sit Higher Maths anyway and are reporting my result as a problem, but if I had been expected to get a grade three and had performed unusually well on the day of the exam, I would have been entitled to a better grade but my mistake might not have shown up.
I think that such mistakes with standard grades are having their importance played down by the SQA and the Scottish Executive. Whilst the overall number of pupils with problems may be small, for every individual with a problem it is very serious. My problem, whilst it will probably be corrected eventually, none the less took the shine off what should have been a happy celebration.
Furthermore, I am concerned about what will happen next year, and I hope that my Highers will be correct and not a continuation of this whole sorry tale.
My son's certificate was incomplete, should I have received a letter from the SQA this morning? Perhaps I have misinterpreted the most recent revised promise from the SQA/Sam Galbraith.
It seems SQA was in a hurry to implement a new system. In some cases, new systems are introduced for prestige not necessarily to improve on productivity. SQA should be ashamed for creating this unnecessary anxiety among students and parents.
Aside from the problem, the authorities seem to take it upon themselves to pre-determine the outcome of final complete results. It appears that they have decided that no grades would be or were being revised downwards. Why did they make this ridiculous statement?
Despite Sam Galbraith's reassurance the difficulties lie in the problems encountered with the computer system the problems are much more fundamental.
The entire system is too complex and it is foundering under the weight of beaurocratic detail required of both the SQA and the schools.
Where there were two levels of exam in 5th and 6th year there are now six, ranging from "Access 1" up to "Advanced Higher Still".
While delivering my course, in Physics Higher last year I was required to carry out nine assessments for the SQA.
However, the most serious problems started to arise at marking time when the SQA could not find enough markers for all the complex range of exams.
Teachers who had undertaken marking found that after receiving their quota of exam scripts to mark, they were pressured to take on an additional quota without an extension of the original tight deadlines.
Both of these problems would have an effect on the quality of the marking. So we have an imminent crisis of confidence not only in the computer but also in the standard of marking of the exams. This will inevitably emerge when the appeals system gets under way.
This year, being the first year of the new system, many schools did not submit candidates for the entire range of exams. So in subsequent years as the entire range comes on line, the problems of this year are likely to be compounded.
Teachers have been complaining for months that the system is unwieldy and unworkable. But politicians and the media have put that down to the resistance of teachers to change. It is time now that the voice of teachers was listened to.
Sam Galbraith, if he remains, must now have the courage to review the entire system of "Higher Still " exams which now with retrospect is an unfortunate play on words.
So, according to the SQA's new chief executive they have "confirmed through extensive checks that (their) computer systems for processing results data are sound".
Why then have some students who gained a computing Higher been given an Intermediate 2 award for the core skill of Information Technology?
Presumably this result was calculated rather than entered by hand and isn't the result of missing data.
In the context of what is going on it is a minor problem but it doesn't engender confidence in their processing of results.
As the parent of another Highers candidate who finds himself caught up in the exams 'fiasco' I find it quite astonishing that Sam Galbraith has the audacity to continue in the role of Scottish Education Secretary.
His inept performances over the past week have simply led to him digging a 'bigger hole' for himself with each interview that he gives.
His abysmal attempt to deflect Abeer Park's questions on Friday's 'Reporting Scotland' was an insult to the intelligence of every voter in the country.
No mention has been made of the Standard Grade results. In my school not one of our 4th year pupils received a certificate with their results, and more than a week later they are still waiting.
The school sent in the results on time, the marking of the folios and exams was completed on time by external markers, and yet no certificates and no mention in the press or from the SQA of when, if ever, they will arrive.
What is going on? When will the SQA tell the truth about the extent of the chaos?
I've just read the email about Higher Information Systems on your site and would like to add the following information. As a parent, it became apparent that there was a problem with this Higher last Thursday when the results arrived.
Since then we have been having discussions with school and SQA about the appalling results.
SQA, until today (Friday pm), denied there was any problem. ( so much for the validation process!) We still do not have the correct grade for this Higher, but have been told by the SQA that the marks will be re-calculated by next week.
The main frustration this past week has been the SQA's total refusal to accept that anything was wrong with their system. The errors were not shown in the validation process!
The figure of 5,000 students does not involve cases like these. We still cannot guess at the real number of students affected. I'm sure everyone would agree this situation is totally unacceptable!
Sam Galbraith refuses to resign! Let the parents, families, and the pupils themselves when they become 18 years old, remember who perpetrated this shambles, and use their votes accordingly.
William Bennett, Scotland
Who's idea was it to launch a new computer system at the same time as the "revolutionary" Higher Still courses. The SQA obviously took on too much at the one time and look as if they will pay for it with their jobs.
The ordeal suffered by fellow pupils is shocking and will affect the rest of their lives. So lets see heads roll!!
A system that was never going to be ready, computers that don't talk to each other, a maths exam that bore no relationship to the years' work, headteachers receiving marked papers by acknowledged return and then their pupils failing the exam due to 'a failing on the part of the school to submit the papers for marking';
Children with marks as high as 97/100 being told they had failed, others receiving passes for exams they didn't sit, the SQA answering queries sounding as though they were reading a double glazing sales script, the recheck of the higher papers to be completed tonight but pupils may have to wait until Christmas to hear their true results, an exam board with a get out clause that reads like a conman's dream (if the subject is not mentioned, you have not passed) and they would like us to believe that all is rosy in the garden.
The only thing with less credibility than the SQA both in and outwith the profession is Sam Galbraith.
With all the attention on the higher exam results, spare a thought for those like me who did HND level courses in the past year. I have had no word whatsoever from the SQA and I am still waiting on my certificate.
I am on tenterhooks as I have a conditional place but need the certificate to guarantee it. All of my classmates are in the same situation. I really feel sorry for those who had to go through clearing and are now missing out on places.
I think this whole fiasco is a complete disgrace and it make a mockery of the Scottish education system. I don't think Sam Galbraith should resign, but I think the top brass at the SQA should go. I also think that the SQA should pay out compensation to all students who have been delayed or lost a place due to this farce.
For any degree of confidence to be retained in the Scottish Education System it is imperative that students who appeal what are in many cases erroneous grades should be given access to their exam papers.
It is only by such a mechanism that a semblance of justice and confidence may be re-stored in what is at present a totally discredited system.
I am sixteen years old and have just finished 5th year. To get my results I had to phone the SQA due to the fact that I had no certificate; while on the phone I was told that I had failed one of my highers, then I was told by someone else that my result wasn't known for that same exam.
I have still not received any confirmation that my results are complete.
Now entering 6th year, I now have to cope with and Advanced Higher Chemistry course that the SQA still have not completed and that my school have had to write a study guide, that the SQA promised last year, for.
This is all becoming very annoying not only for me, but for my classmates all around Scotland. All we want is to further our education, is that too much to ask?
Yet another government IT debacle. We've had the Passport Office, the Benefits Agency/Post Office failure, and the Inland Revenue successively and consecutively fail in their projects.
Can't the governing bodies employ quality IT project managers and suppliers to deliver on time and within the agreed quality expectation levels?
I think it is unbelievable because it has left students who have conditional offer confused about where their future lies and whether they can ever trust the SQQ ever again.
The Friday morning newspaper quotes the SQA spokesperson¿s re-assurance to students "universities would confirm places to candidates as no grades were being revised downwards".
What passes as an apology by the SQA advertised in local papers states that "if u know u have the grades necessary to take up your university offer, u need do nothing".
It all sounds very reassuring. but I would draw attention to a student who did attain grades required for a place in Dundee University to read law.
He has been informed by the university that since they cannot be certain that the grades attained are his, they can no longer offer him a place.
Who will , I ask, take responsibility for throwing away future careers and aspirations of this student and others like him?
The problems of last week have little to do with 'education' in the sense of what goes on in schools. They were caused by the introduction of a new certification system.
This was done too quickly. Moreover, the new system involves far too much internal assessment in schools, resulting in the kind of bureaucratic mess we've seen. An urgent review needs to take place with a view to reducing - or, ideally, removing - the internally assessed elements of Higher Still.
The SQA has given a guarantee that no pupil shall have a grade reduced as result of the recent inaccuracies and other mishaps. In what context was this statement made?
As it is, there has been very little action done to repair the lack of confidence in the qualifications. Who now doesn't suspect that there will be pupils applying for jobs and university places on the basis of grades they neither attained nor deserved?
This situation helps no-one except pupils from outwith Scotland who will have qualifications that are, at least, correct.
This shall forever be considered the year of "dodgy" grades when it comes to Scottish pupils.
Sam Galbraith owes it to the children of this country to resign. He was well warned and his present concern is far too late.
I have been told by my school that since my Higher Still and CSYS grades are much worse than my prelims, they will be checked but the SQA helpline says they will not. This leaves me very confused.
I think all the papers should be remarked not just "validated".
SQA strikes again! SQA centres offering assessment for SVQ's were today sent candidate result print-outs by courier.
They had not realised that the results they were sending out for the Highers and Higher Stills would also include SVQ results and the system could not deal with the SVQ results. They did not realise this until centres started phoning in.
Perhaps they should employ some of the people who they verify as having passed their basic SVQ in administration.
What hope for our children's Higher results? Some of these will not be applying to Scottish universities for places but to English or Welsh ones and these universities were never sure about the old Highers.
Who pays for this mistake? Who pays for the courier service delivery, in our case to Orkney?
No doubt we will all end up paying.
To add more fuel to the debate over the debacle which was the Higher Still results this year, I would like to know as a concerned parent if it is the case that the so-called banding of the exam papers was changed making it much more difficult to achieve an A level pass compared to the old style Higher.
Will universities recognise the increased difficulty in the Higher Still course work and final exam and change the grades required for entrance to degree courses?
A maths teacher friend of mine said that in all the years she has taught maths the Higher exam paper this year was undoubtedly the most difficult she had ever seen.
Not only are our children being faced with harder than expected final exams for the first, with no past papers to help them, but now they have to experience certificates with incomplete information, missing grades, late results and lower than hoped for results.
They are indeed this year's guinea pigs and some children may never recover from the ordeal.
The SQA may face a deluge of appeals over the next few weeks, this fiasco will run for a while yet, I fear.
Why is anybody surprised at the SQA fiasco? Schools have been struggling all year with broken promises by the SQA and the Scottish Executive.
Course materials have been promised but not delivered; support materials have contained incredible inaccuracies and assessment arrangements have been modified and relaxed throughout the year.
Why would anyone expect the marking and results service to be any different? It is so sad to see the high standards of the Scottish Examination Board destroyed by Scotvec systems and the whole Scottish Education system made an international laughing stock. Galbraith must go!
Many pupils who sat Higher Information Systems have received results two or three grades lower than expected.
SQA are telling us to appeal for them, but when it applies to hundreds of pupils there must be a problem with the system.
I say they should manually check every single result in Higher IS, check the paper results against the computer's results and let pupils know by next Friday and not October which is when appeals would be heard.
13 Aug 00 | Scotland
Letting off steam over exam chaos
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