SQA issues “amber” warning on exam papers

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SCHOOL exam papers are being delayed – creating fears among teachers that they may not be ready in time for the upcoming exam season.

Students across Scotland will be start sitting down to take their exams in early May.

But now there are fears that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) – which governs the nation’s exams – has fallen behind in producing papers, earning them an “amber” warning.

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And Advanced Highers – which can have a huge bearing on university applications – have been particularly affected by the backlog.

The delay has caused some teaching officials to describe the Scottish exam system as being at “crisis point”.

This year’s delay in producing the papers emerged in a meeting of the board of the curriculum programme.

According to minutes from the meeting Dr Gill Stewart – the SQA’s director of qualifications development – said the problems were a result of “conflicting and multiple demands on SQA staff”.

The minutes added: “She reported this pressure had resulted in a slippage across all levels of 2016 paper development, particularly at Advanced Higher, and this had been duly reported to the Scottish government.”

Larry Flanagan – general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland – said that the “slippage” would put further pressure on schools.

He said: “The severe workload and bureaucratic demands that SQA requirements place on secondary teachers and pupils are a huge issue in schools.

“Teachers will be extremely concerned to hear of these additional difficulties with qualifications development within the SQA itself, and these issues must be sorted quickly to ensure even more pressure is not heaped on schools as a result.”

Seamus Searson – the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association – added: “The message from teachers is that it is becoming impossible to cope with all the demands from pupils, parents, headteachers and local authorities.

“Schools are refusing to let staff take part in SQA work due to the disruption to classes, shortage of subject teachers and a lack of supply teachers.

“In addition to the concerns raised by the SQA, I believe we will also have a shortage of exam assessors and exam markers this year, but unfortunately the Scottish government, councils and the SQA do not seem to accept the system is at crisis point.”

An “amber” status is widely understood to be a warning that there is cause for concern.

But an SQA spokesman insisted: “We have successfully met, and continue to meet, our milestones in the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence either on time or early.

“We have evaluated the program,me status of CfE at amber, meaning it is on track and requiring constant monitoring and do not anticipate any external milestones to be missed.

“All question papers are currently in the final stages of print production and will be delivered on time as expected.”

This latest delay comes after the SQA has worked to rebuild its reputation following a disastrous year in 2000 – when they returned inaccurate results to some students, and none to others.

The fiasco caused the head of the SQA to resign, cost the body £11m and also resulted in a student launching a bid to sue them after she was made to resit an exam which she had in fact passed.

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