Tinkering with school exams will cost £4.5m, admits SQA

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Exam chiefs and the government have been slammed by unions for “wasting” £4.5m of taxpayers’ cash on changing school exams.

The Scottish qualifications watchdog said it will cost at least £4.5m to scrap the controversial system of unit assessments.

But the SQA have claimed that the extra money is needed to cover the costs of additonal changes made by the Scottish government.

Unit assessments are tests taken throughout the course by students with the results contributing towards the final grade.

They were originally supposed to be scrapped from 2017-18, but education secretary John Swinney announced in March that they would be available in exceptional circumstances for a temporary period.

 

SQA headquarters in Dalkeith, Midlothian

 

And the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) have now claimed the cost will change as a result of the “additional work” created.

The amount is around 8% of the SQA’s annual budget.

Responding to an FOI request, the SQA stated: “This draft budget figure [of £4.5 million] will change as a result of this additional work.”

A spokesman added that the organisation had “strengthened the course assessments to ensure they assess all aspects of the course” in light of the scrapping of unit assessments.
Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) challenged the SQA to reveal what they were spending the vast amount of money on.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “A £4.5 million cost for doing these rewrites? That must include every item of expenditure, presumably to squeeze money from the Scottish government.

“If that figure is confirmed, the SQA should justify it.

“I think some of that has been about their own agenda – issues they wanted to address would not necessarily have been regarded as needed.”

Reacting to revelations, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Liz Smith said the SNP government was to blame.

She said parents “would be horrified to learn about the large amount of money it has cost to pay for the mistakes made in the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

“That money should have been used to address teacher shortages and also the issue raised by teacher trainees who have bluntly said there was not nearly enough focus on literacy and numeracy.”

The SQA’s annual budget is around £53 million a year.

The organisation declined to give an exact breakdown of exactly how the £4.5 million was being spent, saying they were not in a position to provide further detail.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “These changes to qualifications have been welcomed by teacher unions and will contribute to a reduction in workload for both teachers and young people.

“The SQA budget is closely monitored and managed each year, to take account of the levels of funding required for development of the qualifications, and we will continue to review its requirements in 2017-18 to ensure that the organisation is able to deliver successfully.”

A spokesman for the SQA said: “Following the Deputy First Minister’s decision to remove unit assessments from National 5 to Advanced Higher courses, the SQA has strengthened the course assessments to ensure they assess all aspects of the course.

“In some cases this means an extension or introduction of the question paper and/or coursework. This has resulted in a major revision and streamlining of the National 5 course documentation, making it easier for teachers to use.

“As well as ensuring SQA’s ongoing services are provided, we have also had to employ a number of additional subject specialists and make changes to our business systems to ensure the revisions to national qualifications are delivered.”

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