SQA accused of ignoring exam errors

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TEACHERS have called for an independent regulator to ­handle complaints against Scotland’s qualifications body amid allegations of a series of errors in school exams.

A petition to the Scottish Parliament calls for an independent body to oversee the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) following claims it is “getting away with marking its own homework”.

The petition was raised by teachers in Aberdeenshire who say the SQA lacks accountability, making it difficult to resolve complaints about exams. They cite the example of last year’s Higher Politics paper, which contained a question about the work of theorist Professor Steven Lukes.

Lukes, an Englishman who teaches at New York University, himself described the question as “shocking” and “grossly unfair to pupils unfortunate enough to try to answer it”.

However, the SQA continues to publish the question as part of its past papers.

England and Wales have independent exam regulators. Complainants in Scotland must approach the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, to begin a potentially lengthy inquiry.

Ian Thow, who retired as a religious education teacher in 2010, lodged the petition after receiving what he called unsatisfactory responses from the SQA over issues relating to the Higher Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies (RMPS) exam dating from 2009.

He said: “The processes we have been through have clearly confirmed that there are no structures or avenues available to teachers and schools to which they can refer in order to request an independent investigation of such complaints. The SQA are both judge and jury of their own assessments and marking instructions, but refuse to explain or justify them when requested.”

Donald Morrison, principal teacher of humanities at Ellon Academy in Aberdeenshire, who helped draft the petition, said a question in last year’s Higher Politics paper, which asked candidates to contrast the work of Lukes with that of sociologist Max Weber had been wrong. Responding to an e-mail from Morrison, Lukes said: “The setting of this question is, I agree with you, shocking. It is inaccurate and misleading and grossly unfair to the pupils who were unfortunate enough to try to answer it; and the person who set the question was, plainly, lazy and careless.”

Morrison said: “If you read the External Assessment Report for Higher Politics 2012, you would not know there had been a serious error in that question. That question should have been deemed and declared invalid.”

A spokesman for the SQA said: “We’ve been involved in numerous exchanges with Mr Thow and Mr Morrison and won’t be adding to those.”