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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Minister's new exams pledge
Bill Morton and Sam Galbraith on the programme set
Bill Morton and Sam Galbraith: Failing the Test?
Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar has reassured parents and pupils that everything possible is being done to address the exams crisis.

Mr Dewar was speaking as the universities and colleges admissions service Ucas said the number of people gaining places at Scottish establishments was down by 8.7% on the 1999 figure.

The number of Scottish applicants who have secured a place overall has fallen by 6.6%.

Speaking at the opening of five new schools in Falkirk funded by the Public Private Partnership, Mr Dewar promised that lessons would be learned from the last few weeks.

He continued to back Education minister Sam Galbraith and admitted that ultimate responsibility lay with him as first minister and head of the administration.

Asked if the Scottish Executive inquiry should be extended to include the marking of papers, he said: "We will be looking at every aspect of this matter.

Donald Dewar
Donald Dewar: "Ultimate responsibility"
"I have been assured that experienced teachers were used, many of them who had marked in previous years and that the standards were very much in place.

"If there are doubts then we've got to deal with them but I think it's the appeal system that will do that.

"We are taking on extra staff, we're going to work very hard at it and if there is any question of someone having been badly treated then the appeal mechanism will take care of that.

"But the overwhelming priority is not to diagnose when we haven't got the facts."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said the official inquiry into the exam results fiasco would examine the "quality assurance" procedures that safeguard the marking of papers, but would not look at the actual marking.

'Extra flexibility'

The drop in higher education admissions first emerged on BBC Scotland's Failing the Test? programme on Tuesday night.

Confirming the figures on Wednesday, Ucas chief executive Tony Higgins said: "The initial delay in exam results meant universities and colleagues could not confirm many places for several days but they are now catching up quickly with the backlog.

"Recent announcements of extra flexibility in the numbers of places that higher education institutions can offer may mean that more places could be available this year too.

"There is every chance that more students will be successful despite the recent problems."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, which is responsible for administering the results, reiterated that it would take responsibility for what had gone wrong.

A spokesman added: "With about 60,000 candidates sitting Higher and CSYS exams this year, there are now less than 2,000 candidates still seeking final verification of their results, and we hope to be in a position to offer each and every one of these candidates clarification of their position within the next few days."

Galbraith's 'regret'

During the hour-long programme Mr Galbraith faced questions from pupils, parents, teachers, politicians and education directors.

Mr Galbraith said he "bitterly regretted" the fiasco, but repeated his assertion that he would be staying in his job to sort out the mess.

He said: "As one of the students made clear, this is a life event for them.


We've all been around for quite a long time and never before have we seen such glaring inconsistencies

James Dalziel, head teacher
"We should have got that right, we didn't get it right, we have to find out exactly why that was and we have to make sure that we get it right for them and get it right as soon as possible and make sure it never, never happens again."

Mr Galbraith also repeated his pledge that no Scottish student would miss out on a university place, although he conceded that the place might not be their first choice.

Scottish Qualifications Authority interim chief executive Bill Morton, who also appeared on the programme, said that the problem had been created by the SQA but that 96% of the results were correct.

Pupils who received incomplete results did so, he said, because some data was not entered. The reasons for that would come out in the subsequent inquiries into the fiasco.

'Deeply disturbed'

James Dalziel, head teacher at Eastbank Academy, Glasgow, said: "Generally across the school we are deeply disturbed.

"This afternoon nine children got their Higher Chemistry who were told last week they had failed.

"We got a fax through from the SQA, and we appreciate the work they are putting in to get the data sorted out, but I think in the long term the more serious issue is in fact the consistency of marking.

Exams sign
There is concern about the marking
"I know that some people are saying that head teachers were being a bit alarmist about this, but we've all been around for quite a long time and never before have we seen such glaring inconsistencies or have we seen such variance between the estimate grade of the teachers and our pupils' results."

Exams marker David Cooney said: "This year there were a lot of irregularities.

"Normally we are invited to mark in January, the invitations didn't appear until March and then it was discovered that the time allocated to the marking was reduced from three weeks to two weeks."

Mr Cooney said that in the previous two years he had been asked to mark 137 papers but this year, with less time to carry out the work, was asked to guarantee that he would mark 150 papers.

"I discussed this with the SQA and said that in my professional judgement I did not wish to mark because I could not guarantee within that reduced time that my marking would be reliable."

The debacle over the Highers results - and the political outcry this has created - has overshadowed the Standard Grades results.

Originally due to be posted on the same day as the Highers, they will now start going out in the week beginning 4 September.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Scotland's Alan Mackay reports
"The First Minister was cautious over doubts being cast on how good the marking had been"
Tony Higgins, Ucas
"I was shocked by the number of students who said their grades were lower than they had expected"

Key stories:

Highers analysis:

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

23 Aug 00 | Scotland
18 Aug 00 | Scotland
20 Aug 00 | Scotland
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