14 March 2002

S1M-2686 Scottish Qualifications Authority Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2686, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the general principles of the Scottish Qualifications Authority Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will make just a few brief comments on the subject, as we are near the end of the debate. We heard several references to paper in the SQA. Jamie Stone, Mike Russell and Brian Monteith referred to the potential role of IT systems. After 30 years in computer systems, I still spend much time advising considerable caution, particularly with such systems.

We can successfully convert to IT the kind of system that we are talking about only if we put in place responsible, accountable, trained and qualified IT people to do it. One of the problems that the SQA encountered was that it did not have such people in place. A consequence of that—and I would not say that it was the fault of the SQA or the minister—was that the people who were running the IT department were not senior enough and did not have enough confidence to say that their part of the merging of the Scottish Examinations Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council was not working as it should have.

Mr Stone: Would Mr Stevenson accept that what he is saying about the IT in the SQA is different from what Mike Russell and I are talking about, which is to do with using IT in the examination process?

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to accept that. I am merely sounding a note of caution.

When we are undertaking major programmes of change, we should bring someone in from outside the system to run the programmes. Speaking with hindsight, at the core of many of the difficulties that were experienced in the SQA was the fact that there was no one who was clearly identified to run the change programme.

Mike Russell and Brian Monteith talked about the destruction of papers. I have a constituent who was unable to conclude an appeal on behalf of his daughter because the papers had been destroyed. It is certainly worth revisiting the issue of returning people's scripts, microfilming them or preserving them by some other mechanism, although I admit that the problem affects only a small number of people.

As the "Register of Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament" shows, I spend a little bit of my time lecturing post-graduate and honours-year students at Heriot-Watt University on management information systems. I am grateful to the Scottish Parliament for the intense and professional way in which it has examined the SQA. That has provided a rich seam of material for my students. It is a tribute to the Scottish Parliament, the parties in it and the Executive that we have been able to deal with this difficult issue thoroughly and professionally and achieve an outcome that will be welcomed by everyone in Scotland.


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