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17 January 2017, 06:39
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) must improve its performance amid a "breakdown in trust'' with teachers, according to a new report.
Holyrood's Education Committee said anonymous evidence it had taken from teachers during an inquiry into Scotland's education bodies should give the exams authority "serious cause for concern''.
A survey which included hundreds of responses from teachers found that 67% of 646 respondents suggested they lacked trust in the SQA.
Committee members have called for urgent improvements to the design, delivery and marking of national qualifications and in the SQA's communication with teachers.
The report said: "The main issues to come out of the submissions were: that SQA's documentation is unclear; assessment standards are not well-understood; there are too many changes; marking is inconsistent; and there is a tendency towards box-ticking approaches''.
The committee has recommended that the SQA focus its efforts on eliminating "unacceptable'' errors from exams and ensure all invigilators receive the living wage.
MSPs also examined the work of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and Education Scotland as part of the committee's scrutiny of education bodies.
They called for greater clarity from Education Scotland on who was responsible for decisions taken in different areas of the Curriculum for Excellence and for the body to carry out work to "address the consequences of lack of measurement and collection of outcome based data'' when the reforms were introduced.
Concern was also raised about an apparent drop in the number of school inspections.
Committee convener James Dornan MSP said: "The evidence our committee received was nothing less than eye-opening about some of the problems faced by those working so hard on the front line of education.
"We heard first-hand about the time-consuming burden of guidance that has been placed on teachers, something the Cabinet Secretary has already shown his commitment to deal with.
"However, there continues to be confusing and contradictory messages coming from the very bodies that should be making it easy for our teachers to focus on the needs of our children.
"We were able to tell these big organisations in no uncertain terms how their actions impact on teachers.
"The committee found it hard to understand how, in particular, the SQA has met the needs of Scotland's learners having designed qualifications that have created a huge workload for teachers and led to a breakdown in trust and threats of industrial action.''
The report also raises concerns that the Scottish Government "has not provided evidence to support plans to scrap the SFC's board and create a combined board for all of the enterprise and skills agencies''.
They said they were "particularly concerned'' that any reform would not risk universities being reclassified as public bodies and pledged to continue to scrutinise the proposals.
Recommendations for SDS include work to assess how it meets the needs of rural areas and equalities issues.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Teachers' views are vital to our understanding of how we can build a better education system that offers opportunities to all of our young people and we will consider the committee's report carefully.''
An Education Scotland spokesman said: "Education Scotland welcomed the opportunity to take part in the parliamentary scrutiny process and we will now fully consider the Committee's recommendations and respond in due course.''
The SQA said: "We are committed to addressing the committee's findings, especially in this period of change, and are working to continue to improve our communication with the wider community.''