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Chief political correspondent, John Morrison
"John Ward has battled for months to change the badly flawed internal structures"
 real 56k

Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Exams task force set up
SQA staff
The SQA is attempting to stop a repeat of the crisis
A task force has been set up to help avert a repeat of last year's exams fiasco in Scotland.

Education Minister Jack McConnell said a new national exams co-ordinator would be appointed to oversee operations at the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

In a joint announcement with SQA chaiman John Ward, it was revealed that a deputy head teacher, a senior manager from the further education sector and a civil servant would join the SQA management team.

Two senior business analysts and a consultant would also be assigned to the SQA's information technology department.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell: "Time for decisive action"
And Mr McConnell said the executive would provide additional account managers and assist with the recruitment of markers.

The issue of marker recruitment has been a major concern for the SQA as it attempts to avoid last year's exams crisis when thousands of pupils received inaccurate or delayed results.

A fortnight ago, Mr McConnell told the Scottish Parliament that the SQA was still more than 2,000 markers short, particularly in areas such as French and English.

Officials said the new exams co-ordinator would liaise with education directors, headteachers and college principals to make sure areas where markers were most urgently needed were identified.

Mr McConnell said he was "re-prioritising" work within the executive's education department to ensure the successful delivery of this year's exams becomes its main aim.

He said he was confident the new range of measures would send out the message to students that there will be no repeat of last year's problems.

'Timely results'

He said: "This is the time for decisive action to ensure that results are delivered.

"A lot of work has gone into preparation. Now we are providing key resources and skills to ensure that the SQA and the centres can move forward into the exam season.

"We are determined to do everything necessary to make sure students taking exams this year will receive accurate and timely results."

Mr Ward said he was satisfied with the measures contained in the ministerial announcement.

Brian Monteith
Brian Monteith: Signs of panic
He said: "The SQA management and board welcome the additional support from the Scottish Executive, which is in line with what we had identified and requested."

Scottish Tory education spokesman, Brian Monteith, described the announcement as a "sign of panic".

Mr Monteith said: "Exactly two weeks ago the minister made a statement in parliament that revealed nothing new.

"Now, in the middle of the parliamentary recess and with only two weeks until the first exams are sat, the minister issues a statement detailing a number of new measures.

Ronnie Smith
Ronnie Smith: Guarded welcome
"Whilst welcome, these measures suggest panic at the heart of the Scottish government."

"Why could they not have been announced to parliament before the Easter break, or did the minister fear a parliamentary backlash?"

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "The EIS welcomes the steps taken on the assumption that the SQA and the executive agree that they are necessary.

"The number one priority right now is to ensure the safe delivery of the 2001 exams diet."

"It is reassuring that they now appear to getting their eye firmly on the ball for the 2001 diet."

The Scottish National Party's deputy education spokeswoman, Irene McGugan, said: "It is essential that the chaos of last year is not repeated.

"But it is very late in the day - just two weeks before the exams start - for the government still to be putting together arrangements for effective delivery.

"It is extremely worrying that the SQA still don't have the necessary skills within their organisation, because it indicates that the underlying problems have not been solved.

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See also:

15 Apr 01 | Scotland
SQA faces non-payment threat
05 Apr 01 | Scotland
Exams body 2000 markers short
20 Mar 01 | Scotland
Exams chief sees further problems
23 Feb 01 | Scotland
SQA confirms exams delay plan
11 Feb 01 | Scotland
SQA exams delay plans
19 Jan 01 | Scotland
More students despite exams fiasco
12 Dec 00 | Scotland
Exams body warns of more trouble
11 Dec 00 | Scotland
Legal bid over exam appeals
10 Dec 00 | Scotland
McLeish makes exams pledge
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