Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee
6th Report, 2000
Report on the Inquiry into the Governance of the Scottish Qualifications Authority
MANAGEMENT STATEMENT BETWEEN THE SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE ENTERPRISE AND LIFELONG LEARNING DEPARTMENT AND THE SCOTTISH FURTHER EDUCATION FUNDING COUNCIL (SFEFC)
1.1 The Scottish Further Education Funding Council ("the Council") were established on 1 January 1999 by The Scottish Further Education Funding Council (Establishment) (Scotland) Order 1998 ("the 1998 Order"), under section 7 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992 ("the 1992 Act").
1.2 The Council are an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body, responsible to the Scottish Ministers through the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department (SEELLD). Note that references in this document to the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department and the Scottish Minister for Lifelong Learning, while correct as at the date of this Management Statement, should be read as references to whichever Scottish Executive Department and whichever Scottish Minister has responsibility for Further Education matters from time to time.
1.3 This Management Statement describes the Council's powers, functions and responsibilities, and outlines the Council's relationship with SEELLD and the Scottish Ministers. It also details the planning process and defines how the Council's performance will be measured against the objectives set out in their Corporate Plan.
1.4 This Management Statement and its associated Financial Memorandum have been agreed by the Council and the Scottish Ministers.
1.5 Taken together, the Management Statement and Financial Memorandum set out the broad policy, managerial and financial framework within which the Council operate, in particular:
1.6 The Management Statement will be reviewed from time to time, and at least every 3 years. The Scottish Ministers may, revise, revoke or add to any of the terms and conditions of this document after consultation with the Council. The Council may make representation to the Scottish Ministers for such revision, revocation or addition.
1.7 Copies of this Management Statement and any subsequent substantive amendments will be placed in the Scottish Parliamentary Information Centre.
2. THE POLICY FRAMEWORK
This section describes the powers, functions and responsibilities of the Council under the 1998 Order and the 1992 Act. It also outlines the underlying principles the Council will apply in the way in which they will carry out these responsibilities.
2.1 The 1998 Order and the 1992 Act empower the Council to do all that is necessary or expedient to secure adequate and efficient provision of further education in Scotland, to the extent that they can within the definition of the 1992 Act.
2.2 The Council's functions are set out in the 1998 Order and the 1992 Act. These are principally concerned with the funding of further education in Scotland. The Council shall strive for effectiveness and efficiency in the exercising of their functions, following best practice guidelines in all aspects of their operations.
2.3 The Council shall seek to ensure that value for money is obtained in respect of all public funds administered by them in fulfilling the following responsibilities:
2.3.1 To work with the FE colleges in ensuring the sector plays a full part in taking forward the Scottish Ministers' policy objectives for further education.
2.3.2 To improve access to further education for a wider range of students, particularly from groups who are presently under-represented among FE students, encouraging and supporting the FE colleges in addressing this policy priority.
2.3.3 To facilitate strategic developments that improve the sector's capacity to meet Scotland's education and training needs.
2.3.4 To promote sound governance and the highest standards of management.
Funding and investment
2.3.5 To adopt and apply arrangements for the distribution of funds made available by the Scottish Parliament for further education, and keep arrangements under review to ensure that they continue to meet the Council's statutory responsibilities and policy objectives.
2.3.6 To identify and assess capital investment needs across the sector.
2.3.7 To support learning innovations that improve the learning experience for students.
Quality and Performance Assessment
2.3.8 To secure a system for assessing quality of learning and teaching provision within the FE colleges, and to promote a process of continuous quality improvement in learning and teaching in the sector.
2.3.9 To maintain and publish in an accessible form appropriate statistical, performance and financial information on the FE colleges, covering the range of the sector's activities.
Financial Appraisal and Monitoring
2.3.10 To operate internal administrative and monitoring systems in relation to the application of programme and running cost resources, in line with the Financial Memorandum between SEELLD and the Council.
2.3.11 To monitor the administration by colleges of funds provided by the Council and their general financial performance and health, in line with the Financial Memoranda between the Council and the colleges.
2.3.12 To provide Scottish Ministers with such information and advice as they may require as regards the provision of further education, and as the Council think fit to provide.
2.3.13 To establish and maintain close working relationships with the FE colleges in Scotland, SHEFC and the Scottish Further Education Unit, the other national Funding Councils, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Government Departments and other external bodies with an interest in further education.
Mission and Aims
2.4 In order to fulfil these functions and responsibilities, the Council have developed a Mission Statement supporting the maintenance and development of Scotland's further education system. Details of the Council's aims can also be found in the above document.
2.5 The Council will show a commitment to obtaining accreditation with Investors in People within an agreed timescale, as required by the Scottish Ministers. They will also seek to comply with all guidance applicable to the sound operation of NDPBs.
3. THE STRUCTURAL FRAMEWORK
This section sets out the roles and responsibilities of the Scottish Ministers, the Departmental Accounting Officer in respect of the Council, and those of the Council members, the Chief Executive and the Secretary. Its purpose is to identify in an overall context the role of each and to elaborate on their formal responsibilities in relation to public funds.
Role of the Scottish Ministers
3.1 The Scottish Ministers have been given a range of responsibilities in the 1992 Act and in the 1998 Order. They are responsible under the 1998 Order for making funds available to the Council for the purposes specified in the 1992 Act and for issuing letters of guidance setting the broad policy framework for the Council within the provisions of the 1992 Act. They will, from time to time, provide directions to the Council with regard to the discharge of their functions. The Scottish Ministers are also responsible for determining the amount of grant in aid for the Council. They will also make the appointment of the Chairperson and other members of the Council; and approve the Council's appointment of Chief Executive. The 1998 Order permits the Scottish Ministers to remove members of the Council from office, in accordance with conditions contained in the Order.
3.2 The Scottish Ministers need to be satisfied that the Council's activities are consistent with their functions under the 1992 Act and with the Government's policies and objectives. The Scottish Ministers have a responsibility to ensure that the Council, as a Scottish NDPB, comply with all forms of advice and guidance, and achieve effectiveness and efficiency in the exercising of their functions.
Accountability to the Scottish Parliament
3.3 The Permanent Secretary at The Scottish Executive, as Principal Accounting Officer, is responsible for the overall organisation, management and staffing of the sponsor Department, and for ensuring that there is a high standard of financial management in the Scottish Executive as a whole.
3.4 The Secretary of SEELLD is the Accounting Officer for the Vote from which funds are issued to the Council. He or she is responsible for ensuring that Scottish Parliamentary authority for issuing funds to the Council has been sought and received, and that any conditions attached to these funds conform with the terms of the Vote.
3.5 The Chief Executive of the Council is responsible for proper stewardship of the grant in aid paid to the Council by the Department, and is formally appointed as Accounting Officer for the Council. Further information on the role of the Chief Executive is contained in paragraphs 3.13-3.17; and his or her responsibilities as Accounting Officer are detailed in the Financial Memorandum at paragraphs 3.2-3.6.
3.6 The Principal Accounting Officer, the Accounting Officer for the Vote and the Council's Accounting Officer are all responsible to the Scottish Minister for Lifelong Learning, and accountable to the Scottish Parliament for their respective responsibilities.
3.7 The Scottish Parliament also exercises oversight and scrutiny of the Council through the Auditor General for Scotland, who has responsibility for auditing the accounts of the Council, and shall have free access at all convenient times to the books of account and other documents relating to the Council's accounts, and shall be enabled to examine the Council's economy, efficiency and effectiveness in their use of resources. The Council are required by Schedule 1 to the 1992 Act to keep proper accounts and to send a statement of accounts for each financial year to the Scottish Ministers and the Auditor General for Scotland by the end of August of each year. A draft statement of accounts is required to be submitted to SEELLD and the Auditor General for Scotland not later than 31 May of each year. Once the Auditor General for Scotland has audited and certified the accounts, they will be laid before the Scottish Parliament along with any report on them which the Auditor General for Scotland may make.
3.8 In order to respond to Parliamentary Questions and to correspondence from Members of the Scottish Parliament about issues relating to the Council, the Scottish Ministers will expect the Council to provide information without delay, providing that the cost of gathering any information not immediately available does not exceed a prescribed limit. In the case of correspondence on operational issues or particular cases about decisions of the Council, the Scottish Ministers will encourage MSPs and MPs to write direct to the Council and they may also refer correspondence they have received to the Council for reply.
Role of the Department
3.9 SEELLD are responsible for ensuring that the Council conduct their business in accordance with the terms of the 1992 Act, Financial Memoranda, this Management Statement and such other guidance as it may issue from time to time. The Department will seek to carry out these duties in a manner which gives the Council the maximum autonomy to conduct their business in accordance with the various requirements and guidance of the Scottish Ministers. The Council will routinely copy in advance to the Department papers prepared for discussion at all Council meetings, and at such Committee meetings as may from time to time be agreed.
Role of the Chairperson of the Council
3.10 The non-executive Chairperson of the Council is appointed by the Scottish Ministers and acts as principal spokesperson for the Council. The Chairperson and Council members have collective responsibility for the controls and management of the Council as a corporate body. The Chairperson also has a responsibility to review annually the performance of the Chief Executive, and to submit any recommendation regarding the awarding of a performance bonus to the Councils' Remuneration Committee.
Role of Council Members
3.11 Council members, including the Chairperson and Chief Executive, have a responsibility to ensure that projects, programmes and activities undertaken by the Council are consistent with the overall provisions in the 1992 Act, with Government policies as communicated to the Council and with any guidance issued to the Council by the Scottish Ministers or by SEELLD. A representative of the Scottish Minister for Lifelong Learning may attend meetings of the Council as prescribed in the 1998 Order. Council members will observe The Code of Best Practice for Council Members of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council.
3.12 The Council have agreed to establish a Joint Executive to support the work of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. Details are contained in the Agreement to Create a Joint Executive.
Role of the Chief Executive
3.13 In addition to his or her duties as a Council member and as the Council's Accounting Officer (see para 3.4), the Chief Executive of the Council has overall responsibility for the economic, efficient and effective management of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council and has a key role in assisting the Council to develop policies, identify priorities, and in ensuring effective policy implementation. He or she is responsible for ensuring that the Council meet their agreed financial and other targets.
3.14 The Chief Executive should advise the members of the Council on the discharge of their responsibilities under the 1992 Act and in accordance with this Management Statement. He or she should ensure that there are periodic reviews of the objectives of the Council programmes and of the effectiveness of Council expenditure towards meeting these objectives.
3.15 The Chief Executive acting on behalf of the Council should notify SEELLD in advance of major announcements and events planned by the Council, and should ensure that public statements are consistent with Government policy. Subject to the rules of Parliamentary privilege, SEELLD will similarly advise the Council in advance of any major announcement or events affecting the Council.
3.16 The Chief Executive, with the assistance of his or her senior management, is responsible for all aspects of industrial relations and communication with staff.
3.17 In addition to the above responsibilities on behalf of SFEFC, the Chief Executive has been delegated responsibilities in respect of the Joint Executive, in particular the responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Joint Executive. The Chief Executive will also carry out any other duties as are delegated to him or her from time to time by the Councils.
Role of the Secretary to the Council
3.18 The Secretary to the Council has a responsibility to advise the Chairperson and Council members on the management, regularity and propriety of Council business, to ensure the Council are properly constituted, that they act effectively and within their powers, and that they are open and accountable. In particular, the Secretary is responsible for ensuring that complaints made against the Council are properly investigated. The Secretary is the first point of contact for SEELLD on governance and membership issues.
Management Structure and Personnel
3.19 The Joint Executive (see para 3.12) have agreed to act jointly on the following issues:
3.20 The Council are responsible for their own human resource management, and have discretion to develop, and keep under review as necessary, their own overall staffing and grading structures subject to the conditions set out in this Management Statement. Subject to provisos set out below, the Council also have discretion to recruit staff at all levels below Chief Executive. SEELLD's prior approval is required for any increase in the number of posts which are graded equivalent to Civil Service Unified Grade 6 Level and above, and to any re-grading of existing posts to the equivalent of Grade 6 level and above.
3.21 The statutory requirements governing the appointment and terms and conditions of the staff of the Council are set out in Schedule 1 to the 1992 Act, and in Part VI of the 1998 Order. The Council will determine with the approval of the Scottish Ministers the pay, allowances and other terms and conditions of employment to be applied to the Council's employees. These must continue to meet the criteria laid out in `Pay and Grading Delegation, Guidance to Departments, Agencies and NDPBs' issued and updated by the Cabinet Office, or to any equivalent criteria issued by the Scottish Executive.
3.22 The Council may operate appropriate incentive schemes for all staff, or groups of staff in accordance with guidance contained in "Regularity and Propriety". A note to the Annual Report will record any payments and their relationship to achievement of the Council's objectives.
3.23 The Council will be an equal opportunities employer and will provide as necessary any positive action programme or statement to assist them to satisfy relevant requirements.
3.24 Arrangements for the recognition of trade unions, and employee collective bargaining arrangements generally, are for the Council to determine.
3.25 The Council will introduce any procedures required in order to operate in accordance with best practice as outlined in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.
4. THE PLANNING FRAMEWORK
Public Expenditure Process
4.1 Government expenditure plans for the period 1999-00 to 2001-02 were set out in the consultation document "Spending Plans for Scotland" published in the autumn of 1999. Plans for 2002-03 and 2003-04 together with any changes to the previously published plans for 2001-02 will be announced in the autumn of 2000 following Spending Review 2000.
4.2 The Department will communicate the Council's indicative grant allocation - which is subject to Parliamentary approval in the annual budgetary process - as soon as possible thereafter. The Council will then decide on allocations to colleges to be announced for the forthcoming academic year.
4.3 Each year the Council will update their corporate plan covering a 3 year period setting out the means through which the Council set their objectives, strategies, and policies as well as the means by which their effectiveness and their implementation may be measured. The plan will also set out how the achievement of these objectives will contribute to longer-term development of the further education sector in Scotland. In preparing the plan, the Council should take into account advice given in the publication "Objective Setting and Monitoring in NDPBs", produced by the Cabinet Office in 1996. The plan will also be used by the Scottish Ministers as a means of agreeing performance targets.
4.4 The Corporate Plan should:
4.5 It is not intended that the Council's corporate plan should necessarily be radically amended each year. Rather, the Council's strategies should normally remain stable over several years, requiring only minor updating on an annual basis. Such updates will be published. The corporate plan should, in any case, be thoroughly reviewed every 3 years.
Annual Strategic Meeting
4.6 A strategic review meeting between the Chairperson and Chief Executive of the Council and the Scottish Minister for Lifelong Learning will take place annually. The main purpose of this meeting is to review the Council's proposed priorities for the forthcoming year as set out in the corporate plan, and to keep the relationship between SEELLD and SFEFC under review.
4.7 The Council's planning cycle during each financial year will therefore normally be as follows:
4.8 The Council Executive will draw up an annual operational plan for approval by the Council describing the activities which they plan to undertake in the year ahead in pursuit of the aims and objectives in the corporate plan. The operational plan is seen principally as a management and accountability tool, for the Council's internal use. It will set out a manageable and effective programme of work for the coming financial year, providing information on tasks which the Council intend to undertake, setting out detailed objectives, performance indicators and targets, proposed implementation arrangements, and costs and staffing implications. It will include details of the Council's staffing and administration costs for the year ahead.
4.9 The Council are committed to regular measurement of their performance and evaluation of their effectiveness across the full range of their overall aims and strategic objectives. Appropriate qualitative and quantitative measures will be included in the corporate and operational plans, and these will be used as a basis for monitoring performance against the key aims and objectives.
4.10 Performance will be reviewed quarterly against the operational plan and the results will be reported to the Council. These reports should provide information on resource allocation and the performance against operational targets for the period under review. The papers will also be passed to SEELLD for information.
4.11 An annual statement of performance against targets will be included in the Council's published corporate plan.
Financial Planning and Control
4.12 In exercise of their powers under section 10 of the 1992 Act the Scottish Ministers will provide funds to the Council for the purpose of exercising their functions under the 1992 Act. The general terms and conditions subject to which these funds will be made available to the Council by the Scottish Ministers out of monies voted by Parliament are set out in the Financial Memorandum. The Memorandum also records the understanding of SEELLD and the Council as to the manner in which the funds will be expended and accounted for and the arrangements for financial planning, monitoring and control. Other conditions under which grant in aid is provided to the Council may be prescribed from time to time.
5. THE REVIEW FRAMEWORK
Annual Report and Statement of Accounts
5.1 The Annual Report for the immediately previous financial year will detail the activities undertaken by the Council in that year, including the expenditure on each programme. It will also report on manpower variations and organisational change within the Council. Detailed arrangements regulating the Council's use of public funds, and the form and content of the Statement of Accounts are laid down in the Council's Financial Memorandum and separate Accounts Direction. The annual report will be published by 30 September each year.
Policy and Financial Management Reviews
5.2 SEELLD will conduct a Policy and Financial Management Review of the Council at least every five years, or at other such intervals as SEELLD may determine. Such reviews will be in two stages.
5.2.1 The initial stage will focus on whether the Council continue to be required; whether NDPB status is correct; and whether the functions are being delivered in the most effective manner.
5.2.2 If it is decided that the Council should continue, the review will focus on the efficiency and effectiveness with which the Council carry out their activities; their financial and other management systems; and the efficiency and effectiveness of SEELLD's procedures for monitoring the Council's activities.
This Management Statement underpins the broad policy and managerial framework within which the Council operate. In the body of the text reference is made to the following key documents, which should be consulted for further detailed information, and which carry equal weight with this principal document.
There are two points emerging from the oral evidence given to the Committee at the meeting of 29 September which COSHEP would wish to clarify.
The first relates to monitoring. COSHEP would like to emphasise that it has absolutely no monitoring role in relation to the SQA. No Principal from a higher education institution is a member of the SQA Board. COSHEP does not nominate members of the SQA Board. Members of the SQA Board who are from the higher education sector do not represent COSHEP directly. As there are no COSHEP members of the SQA Board and as none of the Principals who make up COSHEP is on the SQA Board, there are no formal or informal reporting methods through which COSHEP monitors the work of the SQA.
The second point relates to prior knowledge of difficulties and representations regarding this. As was stated at the evidence session, neither COSHEP nor its members have any significant role at the input stage of the SQA. It was at this stage that difficulties had started to manifest themselves, but COSHEP had no direct evidence of such difficulties. Clearly, COSHEP was aware of the significant amount of media reporting of potential difficulties. However, we received oral reassurances from the SQA that this reporting was inaccurate and should be disregarded. As we had no evidence to the contrary, these reassurances were accepted. No representations were made from COSHEP to either the SQA or the Scottish Executive on this subject.
This document sets out a Code of Conduct for staff of the Scottish Funding Councils for Further and Higher Education. It is based on the model code for staff of Non Departmental Public Bodies which has been developed by the Cabinet Office.
Duties and Responsibilities
1. Staff of the Councils should familiarise themselves with the contents of the Code and should act in accordance with the principles set out in it.
2. Staff of the Councils have a duty:
The Chief Executive has overall responsibility, working under the Councils, for propriety in a broad sense, including conduct and discipline.
3. Staff of the Councils should be aware:
4. Staff of the Councils should conduct themselves with integrity, impartiality and honesty. They should not deceive or knowingly mislead the Councils, the sponsor department, Ministers, Parliament or the public.
Conflicts of Interest
5. Staff should abide by the rules adopted by the Council (which are set out in the Councils staff handbook, staff contracts and elsewhere) in relation to private interest and possible conflict with public duty; the disclosure of official information; and political activities. They should not misuse their official position or information acquired in their official duties to further their private interests or those of others. Senior members of staff and programme managers should ensure that any possible conflicts of interest are identified at an early stage and that appropriate action is taken to resolve them.
6. Staff of the Councils should not use their official position to receive, agree to accept or attempt to obtain payment or other consideration for doing, or not doing, anything or showing favour, or disfavour, to any person. They should not receive benefits of any kind from a third party which might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgement and integrity. Under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916, employees of public bodies may be required to prove that the receipt of payment or other consideration from someone seeking to obtain a contract is not corrupt.
Relations with the Public
7. In cases where staff of the Councils are dealing directly with members of the public they should do so sympathetically, efficiently, promptly and without bias or maladministration. Staff of public bodies should offer the public the highest standards of conduct and service.
Use of Resources
8. Staff of the Councils should endeavour to ensure the proper, economical, effective and efficient use of resources.
9. Staff of public bodies owe a general duty of confidentiality to their employer at common law. They are therefore required to protect official information held in confidence. Nothing in the Code should be taken as overriding existing statutory or common law obligations to keep confidential, or in appropriate cases to disclose, certain information. Subject to this proviso, staff should act in accordance with the code of practice on openness adopted by the Councils.
Staff Concerns about Improper Conduct
10. If staff of the Councils believe they are being required to act in a way which:
they should either raise the matter through the management line or approach in confidence the Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs, who is responsible for the investigation of staff concerns about illegal, improper or unethical behaviour. Further recourse in such instances should be to the Chief Executive and to the Chairs of the Councils or, as an alternative, to a member of the Councils. Staff should also draw attention to cases where:
11. Where a member of staff has reported a matter covered in paragraph 10 and believes that the response does not represent a reasonable response to the grounds of his or her concern, he or she may report the matter in writing to a nominated official in the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department. In such cases the report should, in the first instance, be addressed to the Secretary of the Department.
After Leaving Employment
12. Staff of the Council should continue to observe their duty of confidentiality (see paragraph 9) after they have left the Council's employment.
4 October 2000 (23rd Meeting, Session 1 (2000)), Oral Evidence
The EIS welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the Inquiry. This evidence complements EIS evidence previously submitted to the Scottish Parliament Education Committee Schools Examination Results Inquiry.
2 The Scottish Qualifications Authority
2.1 The EIS welcomed the setting up of the Scottish Qualifications Authority. This welcome was largely based on the clear need to establish an examinations body which would bridge the educational divide between academic and vocational courses. Both the Scottish Examinations Board and SCOTVEC had, separately, a worthy history; but in the 1990s it was time to move on. The SQA as an organisation has had much to commend it. It set out to be accessible to teachers and their representatives and in many respects it was successful in that objective. Teachers have done considerable work for the Authority on its Assessment Panels and Advisory Groups. Teachers are represented on the SQA Board, and on a number of groups set up by the Authority. EIS representatives on these groups report on the important work carried out there on behalf of teachers and schools. The management of SQA has also been accessible to the EIS and to other representatives of teachers. In any future arrangement, this accessibility must be retained if an examination body is to have credibility with teachers and with schools.
2.2 However, from its creation, a number of concerns were raised by teachers close to the day to day operation of the SQA. In part this related to difficulties in establishing a new culture which built on the work of two quite disparate bodies. Some difficulties related more to management issues and these are set out in paragraph 3. The EIS believes that the SQA should be allowed to survive in the longer term. There is little benefit in setting up a new body to carry out broadly similar functions to the SQA. A change in name would in itself achieve no real purpose. The EIS believes that the SQA must be supported in (a) amending internal structures in order to establish more clearly a new and distinctive culture for qualifications (b) establishing an improved system of management (c) ensuring input from teachers at all stages (d) forming a new form of accountability, involving the Scottish Executive, to the teaching profession as a whole, to parents and to the wider public. The most significant structural development is (d) and the case for this is set out in paragraph 4.
3 Teachers and the SQA
3.1 It was to be expected that, in setting up a new body, staff would be re-allocated to different functions and new appointments made. Many teachers, close to SQA work, believed that the way in which this happened within the SQA was a recipe for future problems. The well defined remits of specialists in a particular field were replaced by remits of a much broader and more generic nature. Subject panels with responsibility for advising SQA management were replaced by generic subject advisory groups with such a broad spectrum of interest that they could not possibly be effective in the creation or implementation of policy. The new Assessment panels which were intended to replace the subject orientated aspect of the old panels were very slow to be set up. This meant leaving a gap of a year between the end of one system and the beginning of the next. It is particularly regrettable that this professional input should have been lost at a time when a new set of qualifications and assessment procedures were being put in place.
3.2 Some subject panels met for the last time in September 1999, with the first meeting of the new assessment panels scheduled for September 2000. Normally the panels would have met on an almost monthly basis, dealing with issues relating to the exams and the marking of them. At some of the last meetings in the Autumn of 1999 a plea was made that SQA management look urgently at the appointment of setters and markers for the coming exam diet.
3.3 Panels pointed out to SQA management that there would be an increase in the need for markers for the coming diet of exams. Yet the invitation to mark did not arrive until March instead of the usual February. Many of the markers on whom the previous SEB would normally rely on in the past were by that time making alternative arrangements for the summer of 2000, making the assumption that they would not be marking this year. When questions were asked, teachers and markers received assurances that everything would be fine. However, the shortage of markers for several papers quickly came to crisis point. Markers who had already marked were given the option of marking other papers. Many agreed to do so; others refused. The timescale for marking was substantially reduced. Deadlines were already difficult enough. Recognising the amount of work to be done within the new deadline, some markers sent the extra papers back. The administration of this part of the process was, for those involved, an unprecedented disaster. It has been reported to the EIS that some Examiners arriving for the process of finalization (the setting of pass marks etc.) were faced with a number of unmarked papers which they had first to mark. The technical aspects of their work was made much more difficult because computer generated information had omitted many of the marks that were to contribute to the final grade. This lack of complete assessment information will have had serious implications for the calculation of concordance statistics - a key quality assurance mechanism for SQA procedures whereby a school's predictions are statistically matched with the candidates' performance in external examinations.
3.4 The Board of SQA meets only four times a year and its major responsibility is the development of policy. Although informed and consulted on in general terms, Board members are not in a position to have an overview of day to day operational arrangements and procedures - in other words those elements which led to the disaster of August 2000. In the future, there is a need for clarification of the relationships among the Scottish Executive, the Board and the SQA Management. It is accepted that ultimately this may require amendment to primary legislation.
4 Teachers and SQA systems
Many teachers believed throughout the year (and their view has been vindicated in retrospect) that there was an over-reliance on untested computer systems in processing examination data. As stated in paragraph 3.1, the changes in remit of many staff within SQA had a profound impact on the way in which the Authority operated on a day to day basis. From a teachers' perspective, one consequence was an apparent absence of overview within SQA of the new computer systems by staff who had a deep understanding of the exam systems. The fact that some data processing was contracted out by SQA to a commercial firm raises a number of quality assurance issues. A further difficulty was the problem of communication between the new SQA system and the systems in place within local authorities and schools. Most schools, in the weeks which followed the issue of the results in mid-August, have been able to point to major, often repeated, errors in the inputting of data which led to serious omissions and inaccuracies in the published results.
It is not hard to pinpoint major problems in the first year of implementation of Higher Still assessment which led, cumulatively, to the disaster of August 2000, and which is still impacting on the educational experience and future prospects of many thousands of Scottish school students. Teachers identified some of the problems as far back as January 2000; some indeed are endemic to the Higher Still system. There were problems with data processing, with data collation and at times a total breakdown in communications between SQA systems and schools' own systems. Markers were appointed too late and then expected to work to quite impossible deadlines. Almost every part of the process happened too late to meet what, in retrospect, was an impossible deadline for issuing the new exam results. These were the shortcomings which were apparent to teachers as the year developed. Those teachers who had an insight into SQA internal arrangements could see that there were problems within the organisation. Some, but not all of these, stemmed from the difficulties in establishing a new SQA culture beyond the SEB/SCOTVEC merger. What actually happened within SQA in the course of the year is beyond the scope of this EIS submission, although the EIS would expect to be party to discussions beyond the various other inquiries in order to identify the way ahead on this. It is the future and restoration of public confidence in Scotland's examination system, indeed educational system, which lies at the heart of EIS concerns. The SQA has successfully run previous diets of examinations. It is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that this year's disaster was in part due to the complexities of the new exam system.
The EIS believes that the SQA should be retained, with no name change. However, the management of SQA should be fundamentally reviewed, such a review to include internal communications and clarification of lines of responsibility. The Chief Executive and senior officials of SQA must have a background in education and understanding of assessment issues as well as management skills and competence. The SQA must develop to allow a new culture separate from any pre-existing examination body. It must have a clear corporate identity, but its priority must be to meet the needs of the education service and students. The EIS view of the relationship between SQA and the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive is set out in the following paragraphs.
The SQA is fundamentally an education body. It must be managed as an education body with educationists directing its work. The experience of examining bodies in Scotland until this year has demonstrated the success of this model. As a Non Departmental Public Body, with, however, a clear link to government and parliament, it is perhaps unique in its educational role. The SQA must allow access to teachers and lecturers, involve them in decision making and must, on all aspects of policy, consult with teachers and lecturers and their representatives and with the representatives of parent bodies. Subject panels should have an enhanced role; students should from time to time be consulted through surveys and other means.
The EIS has strongly welcomed the overview which the Scottish Parliament now has in respect to Scottish education. The exams system is a vital, integral part of the educational system in Scotland. The EIS recognises the right, in statute, of the Scottish Executive to provide direction to the work of the SQA. However, the EIS believes that it would be wholly inappropriate for the Executive to have day to day operational management control of the SQA. The determining of the curriculum, of assessment, the means of assessment and the process of marking, in any healthy democratic society, must not be under the direct control of the government of the day. Management of SQA should be provided by a Board of Management, appointed by the appropriate Minister, the majority of whom should have a background in education. However, lines of accountability among SQA management, the Board and the Executive must be properly clarified. Also, the Board itself should not be the only link between the SQA and the wider community, especially the educational community.
The EIS believes that the events of this year mean that there should be greater accountability of the SQA to the education community, the wider community and the Scottish Parliament. Therefore the EIS proposes that a Council should be set up, with representatives from teacher organisations, from parent bodies and from bodies representing educational interests. It should be able to act independently of the Board of Management of SQA and of SQA officials and should be able to report direct to the Scottish Parliament. It should have the power to question the Chief Executive of the SQA and other senior officials employed by SQA. The EIS would expect that appropriate Ministers, members of HMI and appropriate civil servants would make themselves available to this Council. The EIS believes that, following the disastrous events of this summer, action of this sort is required to restore confidence to the Scottish examinations system.
13 October 2000
This paper provides background information relating to the governance of the SQA (in response to a request for more information on this matter from the Committee). SPICe researchers will be present at the Committee meeting on 8 November, should Members wish further discussion.
A SPECTRUM OF CONTROL
As suggested in the previous SPICe note on SQA (1), one way of interpreting the extent of public body accountability is to fix each on a theoretical spectrum ranging from direct control to very limited ministerial influence. In this sense:
This theoretical model oversimplifies the real accountability relationships that exist between different public bodies and their sponsor or core departments. On many aspects of accountability, there is an overlap between the different categories, with variation within each category being as significant as the variation between them. For example Executive Agencies range from Wilton Park Conference Centre with an annual budget of just over £2m, to the Social Security Benefits Agency with operating costs of around £2.4 billion, and responsibility for the administration of over 20 Social Security benefits totalling in excess of £80 billion a year. Similarly NDPBs vary from the Wine Standards Board of the Vintners Company (annual expenditure of less that £0.5m) to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (annual spend of £3.6 billion). The following table highlights some of the key distinctions, and parallels, that generally apply between Executive NDPBs and Executive Agencies.
EXECUTIVE AGENCIES AND NDPBS - SOME KEY DISTINCTIONS
EXPERIENCES OF GOVERNANCE ISSUES BY OTHER BODIES
This section provides examples of previous governance and management issues in public bodies which are directly relevant (the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority); where things have gone wrong (Passport Agency, Child Support Agency); or where the status of the organisation has or is changing (Scottish Homes).
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
Established under the Education Act 1997, the QCA is essentially a regulatory authority. It brought together the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and the Scottish Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) - giving it a "unique overview of curriculum, assessment, and qualifications" from pre school to higher vocational levels.
The SQA has a statutory awarding function for qualifications in Scotland, in contrast to the wide range of commercially-driven awarding bodies in England (the QCA website lists over 100 Awarding Bodies on its website). The finances of the two organisations are also distinct, with QCA receiving no income from chargeable services. The Executive NDPBs 1999 report shows that whereas SQA was forecast to receive some 21% of its income from the Government during 1999-00, the equivalent figure for QCA was 88%.
There are some other differences in the arrangements, including QCA having functions which are carried out in Scotland by the Education Department/HMI (developing learning goals and helping schools to set targets), and by Learning and Teaching Scotland (5) (monitoring and reviewing the curriculum).
United Kingdom Passport Agency (UKPA)
A new computerised system for processing passports was introduced by the UK Passport Agency (an executive agency), leading to long delays in the processing of passports during 1999. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (6) examined the issue, reporting that:
As part of the Committee's recommendations about preventing a re-occurrence they stated that:
The quinquennial review (April 2000) included the following in its recommendations;
Social Security Child Support Agency (CSA)
a catastrophic administrative failure leading to abandonment of many of the basic tenets of administrative justice
Further evidence to the Social Security Committee (8) diagnosed some of the more general problems with the Agency as including the following:
It is relatively common for the status of a public organisation to change, though more often this has been a move "outwards" away from Government. In cases such as the UKPA, however some functions have been brought closer in to Government. In its proposals for the Housing Bill, the Executive announced its intention to alter the status of Scottish Homes. Scottish Homes is an executive NDPB, but the new legislation will return the policy function of the body to the Scottish Executive Development Department, while the remaining functions (e.g. regulation of public housing providers) will be carried out by Scottish Homes (but as an executive agency)
1 RN 00/81, 29/9/00, Quangos and the Governance of the SQA