Cavalier exams body has let standards slip

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YOU are to be commended for highlighting the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s controversial dealings. (“Call for inquiry into SQA’s Bahrain contract”, News, 3 March). The key sentence in the article was “A Scottish Government spokesman said the SQA works at arm’s length from ministers…” Indeed it does.

Such unaccountability contributed to the results debacle of 2000 when hundreds of candidates had their careers or future study plans wrecked by inaccurate certification. Under the guise of respecting its independence, successive education ministers have allowed the SQA to do more or less whatever suits its officials.

The SQA’s present chief 
executive Dr Janet Brown has no background in education, having worked mostly for multinationals. She moved to the SQA from that notoriously free-spending public body, Scottish Enterprise.

Under her watch, what is supposed to be an organisation serving the needs of Scottish exam candidates has become more like an avaricious revenue-generating private company. A clue to this ethos is in job titles such as “head of marketing”, “head of international”, “head of new ventures”.

By contrast, hardly anyone is employed to oversee the quality of the actual assessments. A teacher in Aberdeenshire has written to the educational press about serious flaws in his subject’s Higher papers. He has been ignored by the SQA, who continue to reproduce the erroneous questions in their publications.

This cavalier approach to what should be the SQA’s core function does not bode well for the new national examinations under Curriculum for Excellence.

The SQA spent several 
thousand pounds last year on PR consultants. They have clearly failed to put a positive spin on the SQA’s activities, including overseas contracts not only with Bahrain but also China, another country of questionable human rights.

Robust investigative journalism into the SQA management has been lacking for years, particularly from the broadcast media. Scotland on Sunday has set an admirable example in this instance, but much more probing is required.

John Samson, Edinburgh