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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Exams crisis unabated after a month
A pupil in class
Pupils want the mess cleared up quickly
It is four weeks since Scotland's much-vaunted exam system descended into chaos.

Since then the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Scottish Executive have stressed that the situation is being brought under control.

But with Sam Galbraith and the SQA facing the thunder of Holyrood, is that how it appears in schools?

BBC Scotland's education correspondent Kenneth Macdonald has found that - up and down Scotland - it still feels a lot like a crisis.



By now it seems everyone in Scotland knows, or knows of, someone with a Highers horror story.

"I was very happy with what I was told on the phone which was three As, so I went on holiday and I came back a week later and there was an envelope in the post box and it was my results," said Toby Ross.

"I looked inside expecting my three As and I got an A and two Cs."


I think we all expected that there were going to be some hiccups, but we certainly did not expect that it would be to the extent that it has been

Christine Dignan
Toby Ross and Adam Gorman sat their Highers at Selkirk High School.

Adam said: "Although my results, I'm pretty confident, are right now, there's always that little niggling doubt that maybe they are not what you got in the end.

"There is also the feeling that maybe universities are going to look down on this year's results, and not consider them as important as previous years."

'Over-complex'

In Dumfries and Galloway, a quarter of pupils reported problems with their Higher results, and the number of appeals in the region is expected to rise by 200%.

The head of secondary education, Christine Dignan, said problems were apparent as long ago as last October.

SQA staff
SQA staff have been trying to sort out the mess
"There were tell tale signs, they were not, perhaps, enormous initially, and you have to remember we are dealing with a new set of examinations and a new set of requirements," she said.

"I think we all expected that there were going to be some hiccups, but we certainly did not expect that it would be to the extent that it has been."

And at St Joseph's College, in Dumfries, English teacher John Macmillan said there are real doubts about the ability of the Scottish Qualifications Authority to cope with what he calls a "vastly over-complex system".

Mr Macmillan said: "The whole internal assessment issue is at the root of all the problems.

'No confidence'

"In the Higher Still system all candidates have to pass all internal units before they can be given their overall award.

"They are crucial and it means an awful lot of data is going to be flying in the direction of the SQA and we have no confidence that they can handle it."

Pupil sitting an exam
There are already fears about next year's exams
There are also concerns about appeals in Aberdeenshire.

The rector of Ellon Academy, Brian Wilkins, said he is hearing from parents of pupils who have done as well as they did in the prelims, but really put their backs into it before the big exams.

They suspect, but cannot prove, they should have more to show for it.

Mr Wilkins said: "For instance we have a youngster who needs three As to get into veterinary college next year who has two As and a B.

"We can't appeal on that based on the information in the school, but they are still raising the issue, 'How can we be sure a B is a B and wasn't a very near miss A'."

At Inverness Royal Academy, rector John Considine said the chaos is already affecting next year's exams.

'Confirmed in writing'

"At the moment we've started courses and we're not sure when the deadlines for submitting materials are, and that is unsatisfactory and means our planning isn't as good as it should be at this stage," he said.

"We still don't have confidence that quality assurance systems that we normally expect are going to be in place in time.

Exam sign
Complaints about the crisis show no signs of dying down
"We still don't have confidence that the marking is going to be as rigorous or as reliable as it has been until summertime."

In Dundee, the city's director of education Anne Wilson is trying to trace pupils who have left school and may be lost to the system.

Unless they get back in touch they will not be able to appeal and they may never know what their results should have been.

She said: "There was one girl who had received a C in a subject, where it was her best subject, and the school felt she should have an A and so they questioned this on the telephone and were told that a band seven had been entered where it should have been a band one.

'Still waiting'

"So, in fact she should have got an A, and they said 'Can we tell her?' and they were told 'No, you can't tell her, it's just information by telephone and you have to wait until you get it confirmed in writing', and the girl doesn't know yet."

Four weeks ago the results should have gone in the post to everyone, complete and, the SQA assured us, 100% accurate.

Thousands of people - pupils, parents and teachers - are still waiting.

Some for results, more for appeals, all of them for the answers.


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See also:

06 Sep 00 | Scotland
Galbraith in exams fiasco spotlight
05 Sep 00 | Scotland
Executive to set up exams watchdog
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