Exams chiefs are in a "parallel universe" say MSPs

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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Exam chiefs in Scotland have been accused of being on a "parallel universe" and presiding over the worst performance in 10 years as they faced a grilling from MSPs at Holyrood today.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority came under fire amid claims of poor communications with teachers who struggle to know what is likely to be in Higher and national exams - and what they should teach. There are also concerns about the marking of exams and transparency.

Dr Janet Brown faced a grilling from MSPs today

Dr Janet Brown faced a grilling from MSPs today

But SQA chief executive Janet Brown today said many of the problems stem from the failure of a major overhaul of the exam system in Scotland - curriculum for Excellence - which saw the "unit assessments" associated with this change having to be scrapped.

Chief executive Janet Brown also told Holyrood's education committee today that there have been some mistakes in exam papers which she accepted was "unacceptable."

Widespread concerns among teachers over their dealings with the SQA have been unveiled by survey carried out by the committee. Geography teachers claimed in evidence to the committee that this year's Higher was the "worst ever."

Ex-Labour leader Johann Lamont, herself a former teacher, ridiculed Ms Brown's claims that the SQA has a "strong working relationship" with teachers.

She added: "In what parallel universe do you still have strong working relationship with teachers?"

Ms Lamont said she had been a teacher in the 1980s where there were concerns in the profession over the switch from `O ' Grades to standard grades, but insisted the current situation was on a "different level."

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said evidence submitted to the committee show sweeping concerns.

"In my ten years in this Parliament I have seldom come across a set of evidence that is so compelling in its concerns about the SQA," she said.

"People are questioning the process of setting exams, they're questioning the process of marking them, we have teachers here making quite a strong comment that they feel that there is a lack of effective scrutiny over this and transparency," she said.

But Dr Brown said the SQA has taken "significant time" to overhaul Scotland 's exam system to meet the needs of the Currculum for Excellence, including the ill-fated introduction of "unit assessments" which have since been scrapped.

"The approach that was taken with CFE was very much to move away from prescriptive assessment to something that was very much more teacher driven," she said.

"That's has proved to be a challenge for some teachers and not something that some teachers want to do. So as we move into a new situation where there will be no unit assessments, that aspect of the discomfort that teachers have found with the approach, that was agreed by senior management board, will actually be removed."