Scotland's exams agency to review Higher English 'leak'

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Scotland's exams agency is reviewing what led to this year's Higher English exam being changed at short notice.

Tens of thousands of candidates will sit the exam on Thursday.

One of the two question papers was replaced last week amid concern about a possible leak.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said it would be inappropriate to provide more details of what may have happened now. It appears the problem did not arise within the agency itself.

The organisation said it had secure processes in place for producing, printing and delivering exam papers.

It is possible the problem may have arisen after the paper was printed and delivered to schools and exam centres.

A spokesman for the SQA said the issue was an "isolated and external" factor and there did not appear to have been a failure in its own processes.

He said: "The whole examination process relies on the integrity and professional responsibility of those involved in the development and delivery of the qualifications, including those teachers, subject specialists and education professionals who work with SQA.

"Confidentiality clauses are applied to everyone who is closely associated with the production of exam papers.

"The security and confidentiality of our exam materials is of the utmost importance.

"We have secure processes in place for producing question papers, from initial development through to printing, delivery and storage.

"We do not believe this potential issue arose as a result of these systems and processes, but was an isolated and external factor."

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The SQA is seeking to reassure candidates that they should not be concerned about the changes and it said Thursday's exam would be up to standard.

The potential problem was identified a number of weeks ago although the replacement paper was only sent out last week.

The SQA said: "We took precautionary action after a potential issue involving one of our Higher English papers was identified a number of weeks ago.

"We go to great lengths to create a bank of content which can be used. This process is completed many months before the exam diet is due to start.

"Because our processes were in place, we were able to adjust the paper quickly."

Chief invigilators at each school and exam centre have been given clear instructions to ensure candidates sit the correct paper.

The SQA said the invigilators are highly experienced and familiar with the strict processes for dealing with such issues.

'Rigorous standards'

The spokesman added: "We want to reassure candidates, parents and schools that all our exams, including this Higher English paper, are subject to the same rigorous standards of scrutiny to ensure candidates are able to display their knowledge and understanding."

Exam papers are expected to include a range of questions of varying degrees of difficulty which cover the whole range of the syllabus in each subject.

Inevitably, in a subject like English fewer answers are simply right or wrong like they might be in science or maths. Markers look for evidence of a candidate's understanding of the subject.

Teachers and councils - which run state schools - have not been given any information about just what the problem may actually have been and how it happened.

The Scottish Association for the Teaching of English welcomed the prompt action by the SQA.

A spokesman added: "English and Literacy are especially difficult subjects to assess with examinations, and it will be essential that any changes to examination questions will be clearly communicated and moderated when exam scripts are marked.

"It is essential that markers are properly informed of the standards, and that any oddities arising from this episode are taken into account before students receive their results."

A spokesman for the largest teachers union, the EIS, said the SQA should make as much information public as possible.

He said: "It is important that information relating to how the issue arose is shared with all concerned, so that similar incidents can be avoided in the future."

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