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Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee

6th Report, 2000

Report on the Inquiry into the Governance of the Scottish Qualifications Authority
 
    
   
SP Paper 225

Session 1 (2000)

SCOTTISH QUALIFICATIONS AUTHORITY
BOARD OF MANAGEMENT

Minutes of fourteenth meeting of the Board of Management held on Thursday 23 March 2000 at

10.30 am in the SQA office Dalkeith.

Members Officers

* Mr D Miller (Chairman) * Mrs C De Luca

* Ms M Allan * Mr D Elliot

* Professor P Bush * Dr D Giles

* Mrs P Cairns * Ms M Grant

* Councillor Dr M Green * Dr D Gunning

* Mr I Hay * Ms F MacKay

Mrs A Hill * Ms C Wood

* Mr M Leech

* Mrs P Lowrie Observers

Mrs V MacIver

Mrs L McKay Mr R Palmer

* Dr J McClure * Mr K Weller

* Mr I McMillan * Mr D Smart

Mrs L McTavish

* Professor I Marrian

* Mr B Minto

* Mr I Muir

* Dr C Munn

Mrs M Nicol

* Mrs S Rae

Mr J Ramsay

* Dr P Thomson

* Mr R Tuck

* indicates present

In opening the meeting the Chairman, Mr Miller, informed members that Astrid Ritchie had resigned from the Board. Mr Miller paid tribute to Mrs Ritchie's contribution as a member both of the Board of Management of SQA and previously of the Board of SEB.

The Chairman also informed members that Ralph Palmer had resigned as Highlands and Islands Enterprise Observer to the Board. Mr Miller commended Mr Palmer's contribution to Board discussions during his period of Observership.

The Chairman went on to inform members that Peter Bush was to resign from the Board on 1 April 2000 following his appointment as Director of the South-West Region of the Open University. Members joined the Chairman in congratulating Professor Bush on his appointment and in offering him every good wish for the future.

14/1 APOLOGIES

Apologies were received from Mrs Hill, Mrs McKay, Mrs McTavish, Mrs Nicol, Mr Palmer and Mr Ramsay.

14/2 MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 9 DECEMBER 1999

The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Management held on 9 December 1999 were approved as a correct record.

14/3 MATTERS ARISING

13/3 12/3 Corporate Performance Indicators

Members were informed that SQA's Corporate Plan for 2000-2003 and related Corporate Performance Indicators had been approved by the Scottish Executive.

13/5 Report on Year 2000 Compliance

Members noted with satisfaction that steps taken to ensure Year 2000 compliance of SQA's electronic systems had proved effective and that the transition to 2000 had passed off without incident.

13/11 Winter Examination Diet: Update

Members were informed that in summer 2000 centres would be asked to indicate the qualifications for which they expected to enter candidates at the inaugural Winter Diet. The resource and cost implications of running the Winter Diet would be investigated in the light of returns and a decision taken on whether the Scottish Executive should be approached for additional funding.

13/13 Human Resource Management: Update

Members were informed that the outcome of the review of pay and grading would be announced in general terms at Team Briefs to be held on 10 April 2000, and that on 13 April every member of staff would receive a letter detailing where they sat in the new pay and grading structure. Dr Giles confirmed that the new structure had been worked out in consultation with the staff unions and that the Scottish Executive had been kept fully informed of developments. Members noted that from 2001/2002 SQA would move to a system of performance-related pay progression.

14/4 NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMITTEE _ MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2000

The Convener of the National Qualifications Committee, Dr Thomson, presented the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 10 February 2000.

The Board agreed to adopt the minutes of the National Qualifications Committee.

14/5 IMPLEMENTATION OF NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS: UPDATE

Dr Gunning presented paper B14/5 which updated members on developments in connection with the implementation of National Qualifications.

Members welcomed steps, taken and planned, to gather and act on feedback on implementation of the new courses. It was noted that the current survey of candidates and planned teacher survey would provide hard evidence which would inform necessary remediation and further development of courses and NAB materials.

One member referred to concerns in her authority that the step from Intermediate 2 to Higher Mathematics was too great to be achieved, as was intended, in one year; officers had received similar feedback in relation to English. It was acknowledged that the perceived difficulties might be implementation teething problems but it was agreed that officers would closely monitor feedback on these subjects to determine whether any adjustments should be considered.

The Board agreed to note the update on implementation of National Qualifications.

14/6 THE FUTURE DEVELOPMENT OF SQA'S QUALIFICATIONS PORTFOLIO

Dr Gunning presented paper B14/6 which set out proposals for the development of SQA's qualifications portfolio. Building on SQA's Corporate Plan for 2000-2003, the proposals mapped out a strategy for taking forward SQA's current commitments and further desirable developments, and highlighted issues on which a `watching brief' stance was recommended.

With regard to Scottish Vocational Qualifications, a number of members commented on employers' concerns about the validity of simulated workplace assessment. Members endorsed the planned development of qualifications which would provide candidates with knowledge and understanding to underpin subsequent teaching and assessment of practical skills in the workplace.

There was some discussion of the proposals for the introduction of a two-year Foundation Degree in England and Wales, on which SQA had been invited to submit comments. There was general agreement that the group at which this vocationally-focused degree was targeted was, in the Scottish context, already well served by Higher National Certificates and Diplomas and by level 4 and 5 SVQs. Members noted, however, that although the Foundation Degree was not proposed for introduction in Scotland, this might in practice be difficult to resist if the degree gained currency elsewhere in the UK. The Board agreed to delegate to the Committee powers to finalise SQA's response to the consultation.

The Board agreed to support the proposed rationale for the approach to development and endorsed the three development categories, and broad contents of each, set out in the paper.

In the course of further discussion, one member expressed concern that arrangements involving the use of new National Courses in S3 and S4 might develop in authorities and schools throughout Scotland without the benefit of national strategic guidance. It was noted that SQA did not have a locus in determining how schools and authorities used Standard Grade and the new National Courses to fulfil curriculum requirements in S3 and S4 and would be guided by the Scottish Executive in this regard. It was, however, open to authorities and schools to make representations to the Scottish Executive on the future of Standard Grade.

14/7 POLICY ON OVERSEAS CENTRES

Ms Grant, Head of SQA's International Unit, presented paper B14/7 which proposed a future approach to the management and quality assurance of centres outwith the UK which wished to use SQA qualifications. The approach was designed to sit within SQA's overall strategy for international work - namely, that it would be proactive in seeking consultancy work to assist other countries with the development of their national qualifications systems but would not actively encourage the use of SQA qualifications by overseas centres.

It was proposed that, where an overseas centre wished to use SQA qualifications as part of a franchise agreement with a Scottish centre, a tripartite partnership should be set up whereby SQA would provide quality assurance and administrative support, with development support being provided by the Scottish centre.

It was agreed that in consulting stakeholders on the proposals it would be important to present the new arrangements as a positive development designed to support Scottish centres' overseas work and to avoid any suggestion of a lack of confidence in Scottish centres. The

supportive nature of the proposals would be reinforced by a charging regime which limited SQA's charges to full cost recovery for procedures and processes, thus safeguarding Scottish centres' competitiveness in the overseas market.

The Board approved the proposals set out in the paper for consultation of stakeholders.

14/8 NEW NATIONAL COURSES IN COMMUNITY LANGUAGES

Dr Gunning introduced paper B14/8 which proposed an approach to the development of new National Courses and sought members' support for the specific development of National Courses in Urdu.

Following discussion the Board approved the application of likely uptake of 100 candidates as a criterion for the development of new National Courses. A further criterion would be that a pool of potential appointees was available to carry out assessment and quality assurance duties.

The Board also approved the development of National Courses in Urdu at Intermediate 1 and 2 and Higher levels for first candidate entry in summer 2001 and first examinations in 2002.

14/9 A STRATEGIC APPROACH TO CORE SKILLS

Dr Gunning introduced paper B14/9 which set out proposals for a strategic approach to the maintenance, development and promotion of the core skills framework.

The Board agreed the strategic aims and priority action set out in the paper.

14/10 HMI DOCUMENT "REVIEW OF ASSESSMENT IN PRE-SCHOOL AND 5-14": DRAFT RESPONSE FROM THE SCOTTISH QUALIFICATIONS AUTHORITY

Mr Elliot introduced paper B14/10 which set out background information relating to the recent HMI review of assessment in pre-school and 5-14 and proposed for the Board's consideration a draft response to the consultation document.

Members noted that the draft response presented an assessment of the practical implications of the proposals and welcomed the innovative options presented. Members agreed that it was not for SQA to take a stance on the issue of the pedagogical impact of external assessment.

The Board approved the response for submission to the Scottish Executive Education Department.

14/11 REPORT FROM ACCREDITATION COMMITTEE

The Convener of the Accreditation Committee, Mr Muir, presented paper B14/11 which reported business dealt with by the Committee at its policy meeting in December 1999. The paper also reported accreditation data from the November 1999 and January 2000 operational meetings of the Committee.

The Board agreed to note the report.

14/12 AUDIT COMMITTEE _ MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 23 MARCH 2000

The Convener of the Audit Committee, Dr Munn, gave an oral report on proceedings at the meeting of the Audit Committee which had been held immediately preceding the Board that day.

Members were informed that the Committee had received Internal Audit reports from SQA's Internal Auditors PWC and noted with satisfaction that all audit conclusions were favourable.

It was reported that the Committee had also received a report on developments on the on-going Telecommunications Review and had considered a paper on Ethical Standards in Public life, to which the Board would turn later in its agenda.

14/13 ETHICAL STANDARDS IN PUBLIC LIFE ETC (SCOTLAND) BILL

Dr Giles presented paper B14/13 which summarised the main areas covered in the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill on which the Scottish Executive was currently consulting.

The Board agreed to note the likely implications of the Bill for SQA.

14/14 AWARDS PROCESSING SYSTEM, BUSINESS AND ADMINISTRATIVE

ARRANGEMENTS

Mr Elliot introduced paper B14/14 which updated members on developments related to the Awards Processing System (APS) and the business and administrative arrangements which APS supported.

Members noted that the complex examination support and marks processing software modules were still under development and that additional external personnel had been recruited to ensure that the computer systems functioned fully and correctly and that they would support production and issue of certificates.

Members were informed that many staff were working long hours to address the considerable challenges which faced SQA; staff unions had been understanding in what was accepted as a one-off situation. It was agreed that the Chairman should write to staff at an appropriate time to acknowledge their contribution and commitment to implementing the new qualifications and supporting IT system.

There was some discussion of, and support for, the Chief Executive writing to centres, in the light of lateness of certain procedures, to update them on developments in what had been an unusually challenging year for SQA and centres alike; the opportunity could be taken also to reassure centres that normal service levels would be restored next year.

Having received an assurance that members would be kept fully informed of any strategic issues which might arise, the Board agreed to note the report.

14/15 PROGRESS REPORT ON THE ICT PROJECT

Ms Christine Wood provided a presentation on progress to date in connection with the ICT Project.

On behalf of the Board, the Chairman thanked Ms Wood for her presentation which members had found informative and stimulating and indicated that the Board looked forward to receiving the final report at its meeting in September 2000.

14/16 CHIEF EXECUTIVE'S COMMENTS

(a) The Drum 1999 Scottish Annual Report Prize

Members were informed that SQA's Annual Report for 1997/98 had been entered for the Drum Scottish Annual Report Awards 1999 and had come a very satisfying sixth.

(b) Meeting with Minister

Members were informed of the meeting of David Miller and Ron Tuck with the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, Mr Henry McLeash. The meeting had covered: SQA's finincial position; Higher Still implementation; the role of HNCs and HNDs; and the ICT Project.

(c) Scottish University for Industry

Mr Tuck indicated that useful discussions had recently taken place with the Chief Executive of the Scottish University for Industry (SUfI), Mr Frank Pignatelli, on development of a Memorandum of Understanding between SQA and SUfI.

14/17 ANY OTHER BUSINESS

Officers left the meeting for an item of business for private discussion by Board members.

14/18 DATE OF NEXT MEETING

Thursday 22 June 2000 at 10.30 am in the SQA office, Glasgow.

SCOTTISH QUALIFICATIONS AUTHORITY

BOARD OF MANAGEMENT

Minutes of the fifteenth meeting of the Board of Management held on Thursday 22 June 2000 at 10.30 am in the SQA office, Hanover House, Glasgow.

Members Officers

* Mr D Miller (Chairman) * Dr D Giles

Ms M Allan * Mr J Hart

Mrs P Cairns * Mr N MacGowan

* Councillor Dr M Green * Mrs A Mearns

* Mr I Hay

Mrs A Hill Observers

* Mr M Leech

* Mrs P Lowrie * Mr W Kelly

Mrs V MacIver Mr D MacDiarmid

* Mrs L McKay * Mr D Smart

* Dr J McClure

* Mr I McMillan

* Mrs L McTavish

Professor I Marrian

* Mr B Minto

* Mr I Muir

* Professor C Munn

* Mrs M Nicol

Mrs S Rae

* Mr J Ramsay

* Dr P Thomson

* Mr R Tuck

* indicates present

In opening the meeting the Chairman, Mr Miller, congratulated Mrs McKay on the award of the MBE in the Queen's birthday honours list. Congratulations were also offered to Mrs Nicol on becoming President of EIS. The Chairman welcomed Mr Kelly of QCA (substituting for Dr Tate).

15/1 APOLOGIES

Apologies were received from Ms Allan, Mrs Cairns, Mr MacDiarmid, Professor Marrian and Mrs Rae.

15/2 MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 23 MARCH 2000

The minutes of the Board of Management meeting held on 23 March 2000 were approved as a correct record.

15/3 MATTERS ARISING

14/3 Winter Examination Diet

Members were informed that SQA had been consulting centres on:

  • the qualifications they expected to enter candidates for in the inaugural Winter Diet in 2001/02, and
  • the precise timing of the Diet, ie December 2001 or January 2002.

Responses were still being received and, once the exercise was complete and an analysis

undertaken, a full report would be brought to the Board.

14/7 Policy on Overseas Centres

It was reported that the arrangements agreed at the March Board of Management meeting would be subject to a full consultation during the autumn and that members would be advised of the outcome and any issues arising.

14/15 ICT Project

Members noted that a funding bid for Stage 1 of the ICT project had been submitted to the Scottish Executive but, as yet, there had been no feedback.

14/16 SUfI

Mr Tuck updated the Board on SQA's developing relationship with SUfI and the ongoing discussions on issues such as a Memorandum of Understanding, the Scottish Candidate Number, Progress File and core skills.

15/4 CBI SCOTLAND PAPER - "RETHINKING SCOTLAND'S SKILLS AGENDA"

Mr McMillan introduced the recently published CBI paper "Rethinking Scotland's Skills Agenda" and highlighted the economic challenge facing Scotland, the CBI view that the existing skills policy would not meet this challenge, and - given the changing nature of the labour market and the workplace - the necessity for new skills agendas for 5-18 learning and for lifelong learning.

Members then discussed the CBI paper and SQA's draft response. While accepting the importance of `employability' in the curriculum, members stressed that this would depend on its definition, which had to be realistic in terms of what schools could and should attempt to achieve. It should also be recognised that school is the first stage - then there is Further Education/Higher Education and/or employment and they too have roles in developing and maintaining employability skills.

Reference was made to the need to strengthen the comments on the ASCETT targets contained in the draft response; it was further suggested that the CBI should be encouraged to recognise the value of NTOs setting sector specific targets which could be used to measure progress in the CBI agendas. Highlighting the role of NTOs could also feature in SQA's response, as could the need for CBI to continue to engage with small and medium sized enterprises.

Members then approved the response subject to the incorporation of changes to reflect their discussion.

15/5 REPORT ON 2000 EXAMINATION DIET

Mr Tuck reviewed the 2000 Diet thus far, highlighting the software development problems which had impacted on procedures and created problems for SQA and centres, especially in respect of entries. Contrary to some media speculation, candidates were able to sit examinations as normal. However, there had been some concern about the impact of the shortened timetable on candidates.

Mr Tuck reported that, with the agreement of the Scottish Executive, a consultation would take place over possible options for relaxing the examination timetable in 2001. Centres would shortly be advised of this forthcoming consultation, and the Board would be informed of the outcome and of any change agreed with the Executive.

Higher Maths had also attracted much attention with candidates and teachers expressing concern at what they considered to be an unacceptable level of difficulty and a mismatch between the paper and the specimen paper. The Chief Executive assured the Board that individual candidates would not be penalised as passmarks took account of the level of difficulty in papers. In addition, the appeals process could be used where centres believed that the examination did not reflect the candidate's true ability. Given the degree of concern, a report would be produced taking account of concerns expressed. This report would be made public.

Turning to the issue of August certification, Mr Tuck intimated that: there were no significant software problems to resolve; the Marker shortage had been largely overcome and any remaining scripts would be allocated and marked shortly; data remained a difficulty, with much still to be submitted as well as many queries requiring resolution. However, centres were being encouraged to submit data as soon as possible and named school contacts were being sought for the resolution of any remaining queries during the July period.

The Chief Executive reported that SQA would be reviewing the procedural programme in the light of Diet 2000 experience and would be making changes and refinements for 2001. He recognised that system improvements would not necessarily resolve a potential Marker shortage in 2001 and that therefore the issue of securing the release of teachers for marking purposes would be discussed with the Scottish Executive at the next liaison meeting. A report would be brought to the Board on these discussions and any proposed changes to the programme.

15/6 IMPLEMENTATION OF NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS: UPDATE

Mr MacGowan presented paper B15/6 which updated members on developments in connection with the implementation of National Qualifications. He highlighted the encouraging entry data at Intermediate 1 and 2, the publication of revised specifications for SGAs and the generic Arrangement documents for project-based National Courses, the continuing development of the National Assessment Bank, Scottish Executive development funding, the receipt and analysis of feedback from schools, etc, and the seminars for SQA

Co-ordinators being planned for September.

The Board welcomed the range of activity taking place and the progress made, and agreed to note paper B15/6.

15/7 SCOTTISH CREDIT AND QUALIFICATIONS FRAMEWORK: UPDATE

Mr Hart updated the Board on SCQF developments, referring to the appointment of Mr Miller as Chairman, the first meeting of the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) scheduled for 28 June, and Scottish Executive funding of a development officer and administrative support. He took members through the proposed SCQF development and implementation plan, to be discussed and agreed at JAC on 28 June, teased out the implications for SQA, and intimated that Board members would receive a copy of the final version.

The Board agreed to note the progress being made in developing the SCQF.

15/8 SPECIAL ASSESSMENT ARRANGEMENTS, CORE SKILLS AND GROUP AWARDS

Members discussed paper B15/8 which summarised the issues which had arisen in the continuing work to harmonise previous SEB and SCOTVEC arrangements for candidates with special needs and the action which had been taken to date. Strong support was expressed for the principle of inclusivity which officers were working to and, after due consideration, the Board clarified how SQA should deal with candidates who, because of particular disabilities, are unable to achieve all of the core skills. Option (a) was confirmed as SQA's preferred position, which is that some candidates may not be able to achieve the specified core skill profile for specific group awards and therefore may not be able to complete these group awards.

15/9 OPENNESS IN ASSESSMENT AND QUALITY ASSURANCE

Mr Tuck introduced paper B15/9 which considered how SQA might make assessment and quality assurance processes more open to candidates and the public in the light of changing public expectations and Scottish Executive's consultation on freedom of information.

Members discussed the proposals and agreed that they should form the basis of a consultation in September - November, following a preliminary consultation with Scottish Executive, ADES, HAS and ASC. Candidates and parents would also be drawn into the consultation and the outcomes of the consultative exercise would be reported to the Board in December with proposals for implementation in 2001. It was intended that, once approved by the Board, the report on consultation and any recommendation would be put to Ministers.

15/10 REVIEW OF NEW PROCEDURE FOR QUALITY AUDITING

Members considered paper B15/10, which reviewed the implementation of the new procedure for quality auditing.

It was agreed that the desk auditing approach should be continued and that the refinements set out in paper B15/10 should be taken into account in future audit process development.

15/11 CUSTOMER SERVICE STATEMENT

Dr Giles introduced SQA's draft Customer Service Statement, explaining why a statement was required, how good practice elsewhere had been taken into account, and the factors borne in mind in constructing the draft, ie that it should be inclusive of all SQA qualifications, easy to produce and maintain, easy to read and inexpensive to produce.

The Board agreed to adopt the Customer Service Statement and authorised its publication and inclusion on the SQA website.

15/12 SCOTTISH VOCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMITTEE - MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON TUESDAY 4 APRIL 2000

The Vice-Convener of the Scottish Vocational Qualifications Committee, Mr Hay, presented the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 4 April 2000.

The Board agreed to adopt the minutes of the Scottish Vocational Qualifications Committee.

15/13 "FLEXIBILITY IN SVQs" PROJECT

Mr Hart informed members of the setting up of a project to investigate the need for further flexibility within the criteria for SVQs.

The Board agreed to endorse the project proposal and noted that the outcome of the project would be reported to the Board, the Accreditation Committee and Scottish Executive in 2001.

15/14 HIGHER NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMITTEE - MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 6 APRIL 2000

The Convener of the Higher National Qualifications Committee, Mr Leech, presented the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 6 April 2000.

In the light of concerns voiced at an Association of Scottish Colleges (ASC) Conference - concerns relating to timing, resources, design issues and the need to take account of the wider developments of Higher Still and the emerging SCQF - members agreed that the pilot HNC/HND development in Communication, Computing and Social Sciences would be implemented in the 2001/02 session but that there would be no requirement on colleges to commence the full programme of implementation in 2001. Lessons would be drawn from the pilot phase and reflected in changes in the new design rules, if appropriate, and the concerns voiced by ASC would be fully addressed. Mr Leech mentioned the likelihood of a special meeting of the Higher National Qualifications Committee to take stock of these developments and the possibility of establishing a short-life implementation group in 2001/02 to take forward the rolling programme of reform.

Subject to this development the Board agreed to adopt the minutes of the Higher National Qualifications Committee.

15/15 NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMITTEE - MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 11 MAY 2000

The Convener of the National Qualifications Committee, Dr Thomson, presented the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 11 May 2000.

The Board agreed to adopt the minutes of the National Qualifications Committee.

15/16 FINANCE, PLANNING AND GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE - MINUTES OF METING HELD ON THURSDAY 1 JUNE 2000

The Convener of the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee, Mr Minto, presented the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 1 June 2000.

The Board agreed to adopt the minutes of the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee.

15/17 AUDIT COMMITTEE - MINUTES OF MEETING HELD ON THURSDAY 23 MARCH 2000

The Convener of the Audit Committee, Professor Munn, presented the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 23 March 2000.

The Board agreed to adopt the minutes of the Audit Committee.

15/18 SQA FELLOWSHIPS

Mr Miller intimated that the Chairman's Committee had met prior to the Board and had given preliminary consideration to nominations for SQA Fellowships.

A recommended list would now be drawn up and, once agreed by the Chairman's Committee, put to Board members for approval.

15/19 REPORT FROM ACCREDITATION COMMMITTEE

The Convener of the Accreditation Committee, Mr Muir, presented paper B15/19 which reported business dealt with by the Committee at its policy meeting in March 2000. The paper also reported accreditation data from the February, April and May operational meetings of the Committee.

The Board agreed to note the report.

15/20 CHIEF EXECUTIVE'S COMMENTS

Mr Tuck highlighted SQA's Annual Conference in May at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre; 170 delegates had attended what was generally considered to have been a successful event.

15/21 ANY OTHER BUSINESS

No other matters were raised.

15/22 DATE OF NEXT MEETING

Thursday 21 September 2000 at 10.30 am in Dalkeith.

 

EXTRACT OF THE SUBMISSION FROM SQA TO EDUCATION, CULTURE AND SPORT COMMITTEE

COMMITTEE STRUCTURE

The Board of Management is supported by the following strategic level committees:

  • Chairman's Committee
  • Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee
  • Audit Committee
  • Accreditation Committee
  • National Qualifications Committee
  • Higher National Qualifications Committee
  • Scottish Vocational Qualifications Committee
  • Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee

Block Diagram of Committee Structure (Adobe PDF File)

Committees may, with the consent of the Board of Management, appoint Sub Committees. The remits and compositions of SQA Committees (and Sub Committees where appropriate) are detailed in the pages that follow. The Committee structure is subject to review,

CHAIRMAN'S COMMITTEE

1. Purpose/Principal Tasks

a. To resolve significant items of business which arise between scheduled Board meetings.

b. To make decisions, advise on or monitor other matters as agreed by the Board.

2. Composition

a. The Committee shall be constituted as follows:

  • Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Board
  • Convenor of the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee
  • Convenor of Audit Committee
  • Convenor of the Accreditation Committee
  • Convenor of the National Qualifications Committee
  • Convenor of the Higher National Qualifications Committee
  • Convenor of the Scottish Vocational Qualifications Committee

b. The Committee may invite other Board members to attend meetings as appropriate.

3. Quorum

a. No prescribed calendar of meetings is applicable. The Committee shall meet when appropriate business arises.

b. The quorum necessary to transact business is three members.

FINANCE, PLANNING AND GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE

1 Purpose

To prepare the Corporate Plan, to recommend financial policy to the Board, to keep under review SQA's finances and the financial implications of policies so the SQA continues to be soundly based financially, to deal with staffing matters, and to ensure the effective marketing of qualifications and services.

2. Principal Tasks

a. To review the draft Corporate Plan, amend as appropriate and refer it to the Board for approval.

b. To ensure that the Financial Memorandum, determining the financial duties of SQA, is implemented.

c. To prepare and examine annual estimates for reporting to the Board of Management, including recommended entry charge levels, and approve a budget with represents, in financial terms, the Board of Management's plans for the year.

d. In respect of each financial year, to prepare a statement of accounts giving a true and fair view of the state of affairs and the income and expenditure of SQA.

e. To make decisions on behalf of or advise the Board as appropriate on the costing of new developments, including commercial opportunities at home or abroad, or proposed changes in policy which have significant financial implications.

f. To make decisions on reserves, investments and provisions.

g. To review annually members' travelling and other allowances, making recommendations to the Scottish Executive as appropriate.

h. To ensure the effective and efficient use of information technology to support SQA Key Objectives.

i. To keep under review, and make decisions on behalf of the Board of Management, on the pay, terms and conditions of employment of staff, working within the framework set by the Scottish Executive.

j. To approve and monitor the implementation of the codes of conduct for members of the Board and staff.

k. To ensure the effective marketing of SQA qualifications and services.

l. To make decisions, advise on or monitor other matters as agreed by the Board.

m. To make arrangements, as appropriate, for the discharge of any function by the Chairman and/or other member(s) or any officer of the Board.

3. Composition

a. Membership of the Committee is determined by the Board and is currently:

  • one Convenor - appointed by the Board from its membership
  • five members - appointed by the Board from its membership

SQA's Chairman - ex officio.

b. Assessors - as determined by the Committee.

Assessors have no voting rights and, in the event of being unable to attend, may be substituted.

c. A Vice Convenor shall be appointed by the Committee from its membership.

4 Meeting and Quorum

a. There will normally be three meeting of the Committee per annum.

b. The quorum necessary to transact business will be three members.

AUDIT COMMITTEE

1. Purpose

The Audit Committee is an advisory body with no executive powers but has the following main functions:

a. To help promote the highest standards of propriety in the use of public funds and encourage proper accountability for the use of those funds.

b. To improve the quality of financial reporting by reviewing internal and external financial statements on behalf of the Board.

c. To promote a climate of financial discipline and control which will help to reduce the opportunity for financial mismanagement.

d. To promote the development of internal control systems, which will help, satisfy the Board

i. that it will achieve its key objectives and targets and

ii. that it is operating in accordance with its statutory requirements and in a manner which makes the most economic and effective use of its resources.

e To advise the Board, the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee and the Chief Executive on

i. audit-related issues,

ii. the statutory obligations of both the Board itself and its individual members, and

iii. iii any other matters which might be referred to it.

2. Principal Tasks

a To review SQA's internal and external financial statements and reports to ensure that they reflect best practice.

b. To advise on the appointment of SQA's internal and external auditors, to monitor their performance and to keep under review the level and scope of service required.

c. To receive and consider external audit management letters and to advise on SQA's formal response thereto and on any further action considered necessary.

d. To advise on the internal audit projects to be undertaken each year.

e. To receive and consider internal audit reports, including value for money reports, and to advise on what action, if any, should be taken in the light of the recommendations contained therein.

f. To request, receive and consider reports from the Chief Executive or any other source on matters pertaining to accountability and financial propriety, and to provide guidance and advice thereon.

g. To review the effectiveness of the internal control system in order to ensure that SQA's aims, objectives and key performance targets are achieved in the most economic and effective manner.

h. To advise on SQA's annual and long-term audit programme.

i. To consider and advise on any other matters referred to it by the Board, the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee, the Chief Executive, or any other source.

j. To report at least once a year to the Board as to the discharge of its duties.

3 Composition

a. The Convenor and two members of the Audit Committee shall be drawn from the membership of the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee; in addition, two other non-Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee members shall be appointed by the Board. Neither the Chairman of the Board nor the Chief Executive shall be eligible for appointment to the Audit Committee.

b. The Convenor of another committee, if appointed to the Audit Committee, shall not be eligible to chair the Committee's proceedings.

c. The Chief Executive in his role as accounting officer, the Director of External Relations and Corporate Services and the Head of Corporate Planning and Finance will normally attend meetings but the Committee is empowered to meet without the Chief Executive and officers being present, should circumstances so warrant.

d. A Vice Convenor shall be appointed by the Committee from its membership.

4 Meetings and Quorum

a There will normally be two meetings of the Committee per annum.

b. The quorum necessary to transact business will be two members, which must at all times include one member appointed from within the membership of the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee, and one member appointed from outwith that Committee's membership.

ACCREDITATION COMMITTEE

1 Purpose

To act on behalf of the Authority, within the framework below, to: determine priorities for the standards development programme; establish arrangements for approving standards, qualification structures and external quality control strategies submitted by standards setting bodies; accredit qualifications as Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) if they meet such requirements as are specified and published by SQA; and monitor the implementation of SVQs by awarding bodies.

2 Principal Tasks

a. To monitor developments, and work within the UK-wide framework of national occupational standards, SVQs/NVQs and the associated regularity arrangements, in order to discharge effectively the tasks set out below.

b. To ensure that criteria for national occupational standards, awarding bodies and SVQs are kept under review, revised as appropriate in the context of national developments, and republished from time to time.

c. To agree priorities for the standards development programme and arrangements for the approval of:

  • funding submissions;
  • qualification structures;
  • external quality control strategies;
  • national occupational standards.

d. To accredit qualifications submitted to the Committee which meet SQA's requirements, as published, and to determine the period of accreditation and, where appropriate, specify conditions.

e. To monitor and evaluate the implementation, operation, quality assurance and marketing of SVQs by awarding bodies.

f. To extend the period of accreditation, re-accredit, or de-accredit existing qualifications taking into account the record of awarding bodies in implementing the qualifications, particularly in their compliance with any specific conditions set by SQA.

g. To monitor (i) arrangements for promoting SVQs nationally and (ii) the provision of information and guidance to standards setting bodies and awarding bodies, making recommendations as appropriate.

h. To undertake any additional functions relating to accreditation in the light of national policy developments.

i. To make arrangements, as appropriate, for the discharge of any of the above tasks by the Convenor who shall act - save in extensions of accreditation periods of up to one year - in concert with a minimum of two members of the Committee who are not members of the SQA Board or members of staff of the SQA.

3 Composition

a. Membership of the Committee is determined by the Board but a majority are appointed from out with SQA Board membership, i.e.

  • one Convenor - appointed by the Board from its membership
  • one member - appointed by the Board from its membership
  • other members - appointed by the Board from outwith its membership
  • one member appointed by SCONTO

b Assessors:

  • Scottish Executive Education and Lifelong Learning Department (two Assessors, including HMI)
  • Scottish Enterprise
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  • Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

Assessors have no voting rights and, in the event of being unable to attend, may be substituted.

4 Meetings and Quorum

a. It is anticipated that up to 12 meetings per annum will be required: eight operational meetings, in accordance with point 2 i) above; four policy meetings to consider strategy and key issues.

b. The quorum necessary to transact business will be three members, two of who must be members of the Accreditation Committee who are not SQA Board members or members of staff of SQA.

NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMITTEE

1 Purpose

To monitor and develop national qualifications (i.e. Standard Grades and all post-16 qualifications other than Higher National and Scottish Vocational Qualifications) to ensure that they meet the needs of education, industry and individuals; to oversee 5-14 assessment arrangements; and to oversee assessment and quality assurance arrangements to ensure that standards are maintained in these qualifications.

2. Principal Tasks

a. To advise the Board on strategy for the shape, nature and development of national qualifications.

b. To ensure that national qualifications are developed, validated, amended or withdrawn in accordance with the agreed strategy.

c. To advise the Board upon the overall strategy for assessment and quality assurance systems underpinning national qualifications.

d. To commission research and development activity and evaluate its findings as a means of informing strategy and policy.

e. To work with the Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee on developing means of marketing and supporting centres to assess and quality assure, national qualifications.

f. To keep under review the national qualifications catalogue, and access and progression routes, between these and other qualifications.

g. To make decisions on appeals concerning assessment and quality assurance issues.

h. To receive reports on the work of the 5-14 Assessment Unit.

3. Composition

a. Composition of the Committee is determined by the Board and is currently:

  • one Convenor - appointed by the Board from its membership;
  • eight members - appointed by the Board from its membership;
  • SQA's Chairman - ex officio;
  • five members appointed by the Board from outwith its membership.

b. Assessors - as determined by the committee.

Assessors have no voting rights and, in the event of being unable to attend, may be substituted.

c. A Vice Convenor shall be appointed by the Committee from its membership.

4 Meeting and Quorum

a. There will normally be three meetings of the Committee per annum.

b. The quorum necessary to transact business will be five members.

SCOTTISH VOCATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS COMMITTEE

1 Purposes

To monitor and develop Scottish Vocational Qualifications and other workplace provision for which the SQA is awarding body to ensure that they meet the needs of education, industry and individuals; and to oversee assessment and quality arrangements to ensure that standards are maintained in these qualifications.

2 Principal Tasks

a. To advise the Board on strategy for the shape, nature and development of Scottish Vocational Qualifications.

b. To ensure that Scottish Vocational Qualifications are developed, validated, amended or withdrawn in accordance with the agreed strategy.

c. To advise the Board upon the overall strategy for assessment and quality assurance systems underpinning Scottish Vocational Qualifications.

d. To commission research and development activity and evaluate its findings as a means of informing strategy and policy.

e. To work with Finance, Planning and General Purposes Committee on developing means of marketing, and supporting centres to assess and quality assure, Scottish Vocational Qualifications.

f. To keep under review the Scottish Vocational Qualifications catalogue, and access and progression routes between these and other qualifications.

3 Composition

a. Composition of the Committee is determined by the Board and is currently:

  • one Convenor - appointed by the Board from its membership;
  • four members - appointed by the Board from its membership;
  • SQA's Chairman - ex officio;
  • four members appointed by the Board from outwith its membership

b. Assessors - as determined by the committee.

Assessors have no voting rights and, in the event of being unable to attend, may be substituted.

c. A Vice Convenor shall be appointed by the Committee from its membership.

4 Meeting and Quorum

a. There will normally be two meetings of the Committee per annum.

b. The quorum necessary to transact business will be four members.

SQA Advisory Groups

Each group will help us by acting as a forum in which:

  • we can be directly accountable to representatives of our stakeholders
  • stakeholders can air views on education and training uin the subject the group covers, and we can respond to them
  • stakeholders can take an active part in our work

There are 19 SQA Advisory Groups

1. Communication and Languages

2. Creative Arts

3. Science

4. Mathematics and Statistics

5. Construction

6. Management, Enterprise and People

7. Business Services, Finance and Insurance

8. Hospitality, Home Economics and Tourism

9. Physical Education, Sport and Leisure

10. Computing and Information Technology

11. Engineering

12. Process Industries

13. Food and Drink Industries

14. Transport, Distributive and Service Industries

15. Care

16. Social Sciences and Social Subjects

17. Land and the Environment

18. Public Services

19. Personal Development, Progression and Core Skills

 

29 September 2000 (22nd Meeting, Session 1 (2000))

SUBMISSION FROM THE ASSOCIATION OF SCOTTISH COLLEGES (ASC)

1. The Association of Scottish Colleges (ASC) represents the interests of Scotland's FE colleges. Over 400,000 people enrol each year on courses in the FE colleges. Most of these students - around 250,000 - follow vocational programmes of study or training leading to SQA certificates.

2. The FE sector has a major stake in SQA services for:

College candidates for many different types of award or certificate:

- "Higher Still" National Qualifications (Highers, Intermediate, Access and Standard Grades, CSYS, and Scottish Group Awards);

- Higher National Certificates and Diplomas;

- Scottish Vocational Qualifications;

- Other group awards (such as Professional Development Awards) or customised awards; and

- stand-alone units and college programmes.

Recruits to college courses who have, or expect to get, SQA certification

Development and accreditation of awards to meet the requirements of employers and build the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

3. The FE sector is also a major contributor to the work of SQA through:

    · Appointments to SQA's Board of Directors and its main committees

    · Services of academic staff as examiners, assessors and course developers

    · Consultation on proposals for change or new arrangements

    · Advisory groups for FE

    · ASC liaison with SQA at sector level

    · Fees for candidates from FE colleges

IMPACT OF DIFFICULTIES

4. The problems in SQA certification this year have had 3 main impacts for colleges:

a. Late and initially incorrect certificates for some college candidates in the summer diet for Higher Still and Standard Grade awards

b. Delays in certification for college students on vocational courses

c. Problems in recruitment for the new, 2000-01 academic session (which in most colleges started in August)

5. In responding to this crisis, the FE sector has sought:

    · To reassure and assist students awaiting results or certificates

    · To contribute to speedy and lasting remedy of the certification problems at SQA

REVIEW AND RECOVERY

6. ASC is contributing to the various reviews by SQA and the Scottish Executive as well as giving evidence to the Inquiries by the Scottish Parliament.

7. Diagnosis of what went wrong is a vital first step. The key issues seem to be operational. ASC has highlighted 3 questions:

a. Why was correctly submitted evidence and data not inputted and processed by SQA on time?

b. Why were incorrect and incomplete certificates issued?

c. Why was no earlier warning given to presenting centres of the impending crisis?

SQA PERFORMANCE

8. SQA was engaged in 3 massively difficult tasks this year:

    · Integration of operations formerly separate at SEB and SCOTVEC

    · Implementation of Higher Still (the largest ever reform of school and vocational curriculum and awards)

    · Introduction of a new Awards Processing System (APS) to replace the previous IT database and processing systems

9. All interests agree that the 2000 crisis must never happen again. The reviews need to clarify what assessment and monitoring there was of:

    · SQA's capacity and resources to deliver the changes

    · The risk of slippage and incompleteness in the timetable

    · Communication with presenting centres and recruiting institutions or employers

FUTURE REQUIREMENTS

10. The capacity of SQA to plan and deliver change is vital to make possible unified and all-year round certification for lifelong learning.

    This will require:

    · Clarification of responsibility for design, timetable, and deliverability of changes in SQA arrangements

    · Better feedback to and involvement of colleges and other presenting centres

    · A precautionary principle (piloting and proving of systems before they go live)

    · Better performance and communication by SQA

BETTER GOVERNANCE

12. ASC will set out in its oral evidence its suggestions for improving the management, performance and communications of SQA. This will focus on establishing a clearer role for the FE sector.

    · As contributors to the work of SQA, not just as customers - on behalf of students - for its services

    · In ensuring openness of decisions on the scope and deliverability of changes in SQA arrangements

    · In designing and testing changes for the future

    · In achieving high quality all-year round assessment and certification for all modes and levels of learning.

ASC Executive
21 September 2000

 

SUBMISSION FROM COMMITTEE OF SCOTTISH HIGHER EDUCATION PRINCIPALS (COSHEP)

Introduction

The extent to which COSHEP is able to comment on the causes for the problems that the SQA has encountered in the processing of School examinations is limited. Neither COSHEP nor any of Scotland's higher education institutions have a significant role in the input stage of Standard Grade or Higher processing. It would therefore be inappropriate for COSHEP to speculate. The higher education sector is involved with the SQA primarily at the output stage, and then the contact is seldom direct.

The main issues for COSHEP therefore relate to the transparency of processes, the clarity and promptness of information, the assistance given with planning and, above all, the accuracy and validity of results.

The comments included in this evidence relate to issues where there is a sector-wide relevance, and they limit themselves to school level qualifications. Individual institutions, particularly those with a greater amount of provision at HNC and HND level, may have had a closer working relationship with the SQA and may therefore have more detailed views.

Relationships

Higher education institutions do not receive the majority of the information on qualifications achieved by candidates from the SQA. Rather, the SQA forwards the details of qualifications achieved to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). UCAS then matches this information to candidates who have applied to institutions through UCAS (which accounts for virtually all school applicants). They then forward this information to the institutions which candidates have applied to.

As a general rule, the only direct contact between the SQA and institutions is when institutions are notified of the outcomes of appeals.

Summary of events

Higher education institutions receive, on a confidential basis, the results of candidates who have applied to them before the students do. This enables institutions to make decisions on marginal cases before the candidate contacts the institutions. This should have happened on Monday 7 August but didn't. On Tuesday 8 August, a meeting was held between the COSHEP and the Chief Executive of the SQA. At this meeting, it was indicated to COSHEP that there had been a problem with the processing of a small percentage of candidates' results. COSHEP was told that this would affect less than one per cent of all candidates and that the problems related only to missing data. The certificates issued to those candidates affected would have results missing. However, COSHEP was assured that there was absolutely no problems of accuracy of the data where it was provided and that all certificates with missing data would be completed and returned within ten days to two weeks.

On the basis of this information, COSHEP issued advice to all institutions advising them to continue to process all results where a candidate had achieved the required results but to be aware that places would need to be held open for those affected by missing data.

On Thursday 10 August UCAS provided all higher education institutions with the results of candidates, and institutions began processing applications. However, it very quickly became apparent that there was a significant discrepancy between the results that institutions had received and the information candidates had received. UCAS identified a mistake made in their administration and asked institutions to disregard this initial set of results and to await a revised and correct set of results which would be issued within hours. Institutions therefore put the processing of admission on hold. The SQA continued to assure COSHEP that, excepting the missing data which had already been identified, all data was accurate.

In the end it was the morning of Friday 11 before UCAS issued the correct data to institutions. However, by this point the fact that some certificates were incomplete was in the public domain and media comment was highly negative. COSHEP was keen to reassure candidates that no-one was at any risk of being disadvantaged so, following a further conversation with the SQA in which they confirmed that the position had not changed as far as they were concerned, COSHEP circulated further advice to member institutions. This encouraged them to assure worried candidates that their chance of a university or college place was not affected. It also requested that this message should be given to journalists and COSHEP issued a press statement to this effect.

However, by mid afternoon COSHEP received a number of media enquiries, all of which provided strong anecdotal evidence that at least some of the results which the SQA had issued were incorrect and that the problem did not lie only with missing data. COSHEP therefore contacted the SQA again to re-check that they stood by the accuracy of their results. This time the SQA said they could no longer confirm the accuracy of their results and that they would be revising the situation over the weekend.

Higher education institutions in Scotland had by this point restarted the processing of applications on the basis of what were possibly incorrect results. As an offer of a place at university or college is a legally binding contract, there was the potential for some serious problems. COSHEP therefore circulated further advice to member institutions warning them that the results that both they and candidates had been issued with was potentially incorrect and that the exact position would not be known until Monday at the earliest. COSHEP further advised that institutions might therefore wish to suspend their applications process until then. COSHEP also issued a media statement reassuring candidates that at this stage there was no reason to believe that anyone would be disadvantaged in applying to university or college, and that while it would undoubtedly be a worrying time for candidates the best thing they could do would be to remain patient.

An additional problem was caused by the rescheduling of the date of issue of Scottish results. There is usually a two-week delay between the issuing of Higher and A-Level results. As there is a small number of candidates who sit both Highers and A-Levels and as the results are given to institutions on a confidential basis, UCAS imposes a moratorium on sending out letters of offers from Scottish institutions from the date at which A-Level results are given to institutions. UCAS claims that this is to prevent the unintentional notification of candidates of their results before they have been officially issued. Under usual circumstances this leaves almost two weeks from the time institutions are given results, a period which should comfortably enable the vast majority of processing to be completed. However, as the date of issue of Higher results was moved back by a week to enable more time for the SQA to process the results, and as correct results were given to institutions not on 7 August but on 11 August, this was not possible. Any letters of acceptance that arrived with UCAS later than 4 PM on 11 August (the day institutions received correct results) were held until 17 August when the A-Level results were issued. It is possible that this caused further anxiety to candidates and certainly caused a delay in institutions receiving acceptances. COSHEP believes that there are alternative ways to deal with this solution and that a moratorium on sending letters to applicants with Highers is unnecessary. COSHEP will discuss the options further with UCAS.

By Sunday the SQA issued a statement jointly with COSHEP. This reiterated that the problem was not with the accuracy of data but with missing data but revised upwards the number of affected candidates. The clearing process, through which unfilled places in institutions are made available to candidates applying directly to the institution, was due to begin on Friday 17. The SQA therefore set a deadline of Thursday night for resolving the problem. On this basis, COSHEP restated its opinion that no candidate ought to be disadvantaged.

On Monday further information was circulated to institutions updating them on the situation. As the problem was with missing data, this meant that no results would be revised downwards, and that institutions would therefore be able to issue offers to candidates who had achieved the required results. UCAS announced that it would extend the deadline by which candidates required to accept offers. Therefore, institutions were advised to reassure worried candidates who had not achieved the required results but who may have been victims of missing data that their places would not be in jeopardy and to try to remain patient and to contact the institutions again once they had their revised results.

By Wednesday SQA had revised their position again. The position they now took was that by midnight on Thursday all candidates who had been affected by missing data would be identified but that it could take up to two weeks to correct their results. As this meant that some students would therefore not have their correct results until well into the clearing process, there was now the real potential that some candidates could be disadvantaged, possibly significantly so. However, candidates who applied though UCAS (the vast majority) would not be affected - the provisional offer of a place is a binding contract which is held open until results are confirmed. The clearing system is different, and places are allocated on a first-come first-served basis. A candidate who did not have confirmed qualifications would therefore not be able to apply through clearing. In practice, while a first choice place might therefore be lost, a candidate who was willing to be flexible in the course and institution of study would be unlikely to be excluded from higher education completely. It should be remembered that there are never any guarantees of a place in the clearing process.

When institutions are deciding whether to offer a student a provisional place, they are supplied with predictions of results. Early in the week some institutions indicated that, where a student had a missing result but the rest of their results looked good, they would be willing to accept the predicted result in place of the missing result.

Higher education institutions are allocated a set number of students. If an institution overshoots this number by more than three per cent or undershoots by more than one per cent it is liable to financial penalties. Aware that institutions would find it more difficult this year to control student numbers and to enable a bit of flexibility to create new places for any candidate who was significantly disadvantaged, COSHEP raised the possibility with Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) of relaxing the overshoot figure. Having consulted with the Scottish Executive, SHEFC informed the sector that the overshoot figure would be relaxed to four per cent.

An assurance was given that all urgent appeals would be settled by a date not significantly different than the date by which appeals would usually be settled. As the level of successful appeals was only announced the day before this submission was written, the implications of this outcome are not yet known. As there appears to be something like a ten-fold increase in the number of successful appeals, problems could be caused or institutions. COSHEP would therefore wish to reserve the right to submit further written evidence or to clarify the implications of this issue during oral evidence.

Implications

Some concerns have been raised that the `class of 2000' would always have a doubt over their academic ability and that there were potentially students which have been accepted into the higher education sector who have not met the entry requirements. COSHEP would like to stress that it is the standard achieved at the exit stage which defines the academic qualifications achieved by a student. COSHEP would therefore wish to stress that a degree achieved by a student who entered the Scottish higher education sector in 2000 will be of identical value to any other graduate. COSHEP does not envisage any implications for academic standards resulting from these events.

Equally, any student who applied to study a higher education degree through UCAS, which is the vast majority, will not have been disadvantaged because of these events. This is not to underestimate the anxiety which will have been caused to some. An unconditional offer did not rely on this year's results and a provisional offer is a binding contract which will have been honoured. Those who have received a rejection will either accept their second choice or go into clearing.

While the potential creation of additional places has gone some way to giving institutions the means to resolve potential disadvantage, it is important to note that this will not apply in all subjects. For example, Professions Allied to Medicine (PAM) are largely funded through sources other than SHEFC and therefore the extra leeway in student numbers will not enable an increase the number of places in these subjects.

The implications for those who entered clearing are more complex. It is possible that places which were available on day one of clearing would no longer be available for a candidate by the time their results were confirmed, even though they had achieved the entry requirements. Following the provision of up to another one per cent of places, COSHEP encouraged students to discuss the possibilities with admissions officers, so it is to be hoped that most people were able to be accommodated. However, as clearing is a first-come first-served system which is based on unfilled places which are by nature unpredictable, it is difficult to know in a usual year whether someone will get a place or not. It is therefore very difficult to say with any degree of certainty whether an individual candidate has been disadvantaged this year.

There are potentially financial implications for institutions. The potential for extra places offered by SHEFC to help deal with the problems are not fully funded places. A fully funded place refers to the SHEFC teaching grant which it distributes on the basis of predicted students in each institution and course. While the per capita funding varies depending on the course (medicine is much more expensive to teach than arts and social sciences), the average fully funded place represents £4,240 per student. A further £1,050 per student for every student actually enrolled is paid directly to institutions by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS). This sum paid by SAAS was previously paid by the student in Tuition Fees before they were abolished. The potential to create additional places enabled by SHEFC to assist with the problems of the summer are not fully funded so only attract the £1,050 and not the £4,240. This may have some financial implications for 2000-01, and COSHEP intends to gather evidence on this when it is available.

However, there may also be implications from under-recruitment. It is reasonable to expect that the potential increase in student numbers will impact on the sector unevenly. If some institutions take in more students, these may be lost to other institutions. Clearly, under-recruiting can have significant financial implications for institutions, and this must also be borne in mind. There is also some evidence that the reputation of Scottish education may have been harmed by these events. Applications from candidates based in England to Scottish institutions are currently down by almost 15 per cent. Again, there are financial implications from this, and if there is any question of a loss of confidence, it is essential that this is addressed.

However, it is important to remember that there are long-term implications resulting from changes in student numbers. These students will be in the system not only for this year but until they have completed their degree. It is therefore important that this is borne in mind during the future planning of student numbers.

A further financial implication is caused by disruption to the marketing initiatives run by institutions. Almost all institutions run marketing campaigns at the time of clearing. There range from television and billboard advertising campaigns to staffed hotlines. Many institutions have reported needing to extend advertising campaigns from one week to three weeks and to keep phonelines open longer than they otherwise would have. Clearly, this is an expensive business.

For students, it is possible that late enrolment caused by a delay in receiving results may result in a delay in applying for student loans. In some cases this will require some form of bridging loan which can prove expensive. It also puts additional strain on institutions' hardship funds.

A further issue which should be flagged up is the processing of HNDs and HNCs. These qualifications are increasingly important as entry qualifications for degree programmes. Indeed, some institutions have as many as 30 per cent of acceptances from candidates with these qualifications. The processing of these has also been delayed and, while COSHEP has not yet been able to gather any information on the implications of this, it should be borne in mind.

Conclusions

As was stated in the introduction, COSHEP is not in a position to offer a view on what caused the problems, nor for that reason on what might be done to prevent these problems in the future.

However, COSHEP feels strongly that the SQA is a public agency which has a responsibility to provide the maximum available information and that this information should be provided as quickly, clearly and frankly as possible.

The main issues for higher education throughout these events have been related to planning. If there are problems or are likely to be delays in issuing certificates, this has very substantial implications for the admissions process. This is a complex, time consuming and intensive process in the best of circumstances and if it has to be carried out without the full information available it causes very real problems. A clear statement of the real potential extent of the problems should have been made known to the sector as soon as any suspicions were raised. Following that, realistic and achievable target deadlines should have been set and clearly announced.

Another information role which has impacted on the sector was public information. It was inevitable that these events would cause anxiety for candidates and that could not be avoided. However, if clear public information had been available it would have been easier for candidates to know what to do. Equally, this has been a difficult period of admissions officers in institutions who have had to invest a lot of time and effort into resolving these difficulties. They often had to deal with distraught and angry candidates and parents, and it would have helped them to advise candidates if they had had the fullest information available.

In future, the public information role in a situation such as this should be emphasised and both institutions and candidates should have had access to the most complete information available from the earliest point at which it was known.

COSHEP has not yet had an opportunity to discuss in detail the events of the summer, and so no clear policy decisions in this area have been made. However, a brief consultation has indicated a number of areas of consensus. It is universally felt that, from the higher education sector's point of view, accurate and prompt availability of exam results is essential, and any governance arrangements should be designed to facilitate this outcome. There is no desire in the sector for the functions of the SQA to be incorporated into the civil service. The function of the SQA is essentially a professional assessment body and not simply an administrative agency for carrying out directions from government. Its staff must not only be part of the community that understands assessment and the statistical and technical requirements for reliable and valid judgements about examinations and coursework, but also must be in touch with the latest ideas on, for example, authentic assessment and like matters. COSHEP members who expressed a view felt that this is best achieved at arm's length from government in a similar manner to the current situation.

However, there was also unanimity on the need to ensure proper public accountability. There was therefore general support for the ability of Ministers to intervene directly in the running of the SQA. It was hoped, however, that this would never again be necessary.

Above all, COSHEP believes that all of Scotland will be harmed if the reputation of the Scottish education system was damaged. It is too early at this stage to make an assessment of whether that has happened. However, some indicators - such as the 15 per cent drop in applicants from England to Scottish institutions - are not promising. The processing of applicants to and the public confidence in higher education relies on validity and accuracy of assessments, and this is paramount. This must be assured to ensure confidence. It is also important that we continue to monitor any indicators that the Scottish education brand has been damaged domestically and internationally.

September 2000
 

   

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