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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 01:38 GMT 02:38 UK
Some of our Highers are missing
Ken Macdonald exams graphic
BBC Scotland education correspondent Ken Macdonald examines how the Scottish Qualifications Authority faced a test of its own in coping with the new Highers

It has been, by all accounts, a tough year for Scottish Qualifications Authority staff.

As the deadline approached they were working under extreme pressure to get the results out on time.

On time they may have been, but there have still been delays.

Some Scottish school leavers may have to wait until next week to know whether they have a place at university.

Universities and colleges need to know the passes early - so they can be ready to deal with the annual flood of applicants.

Pupils in exam
SQA staff have also been facing exam pressure
The central admissions service, Ucas, was expecting the data on the Monday before the certificates were posted.

But the details did not arrive from the Scottish exam authorities until the day before students were due to receive them - meaning universities did not have enough time to process them before the first calls from anxious applicants started arriving.

The SQA has also been forced to admit that, in a small number of cases, results certificates are incomplete.

It is thought this will apply to about 0.25% of course results, but it will affect rather more people - maybe as much as 1% of all candidates - well over 1,000 of them.

They will find their certificates are missing information on course passes.

This has been caused by the new system's need to match two types of information - National Units, which are assessed internally by the school or college, and the final course exams which are marked externally as before.

Students need to pass all their units and the final exam to get the course award, for example, a Higher Maths.

The problem led the Scottish Education Minister, Sam Galbraith, to set up an independent inquiry into the delay

Ken Macdonald
But in some cases the SQA has not been able to gather in all the unit marks from a school or college - although they say they are not passing the blame to the institutions concerned.

It may be that the student has failed or deferred a unit while still taking the final exam.

Only in a much smaller number of cases will a student have cleared all the hurdles but not find that course pass recorded on the certificate.

But until the unit information has been received by the SQA it means an information gap.

To fill it the SQA says students should contact their school or college - and it has set up a helpline to provide up to date information.

The SQA is stressing that this means 99.75% of certificates are complete and 100% are accurate.

The problem led the Scottish Education Minister, Sam Galbraith, to set up an independent inquiry into the delay.

He said the delay would affect only a tiny minority of pupils but even one not getting all the results on time was one too many.

He said his officials had known for some weeks that the Scottish Qualifications Authority was running into trouble with its new exam system.

But he gave a categorical reassurance that no-one would lose a university place as a result.

The minister said the independent inquiry would look at what had gone wrong - so the SQA would get things absolutely right next time.

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See also:

16 May 00 | Scotland
D-day for Scottish pupils
15 May 00 | Scotland
Pupil sets site on exams
25 May 00 | UK Systems
Higher education
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