The chairman and former chief executive of the troubled Scottish Qualifications Authority have told a parliamentary inquiry that they were baffled by the crisis that left thousands of Scottish pupils with missing or inaccurate results.
There has been widespread speculation that the problems stemmed from a new computer system set up to deal with the new Higher Still examinations. But chairman David Miller told the Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee: "Amazingly, it was not an IT failure. The software did what was asked of it. The software, I think, worked remarkably well."
Former chief executive Ron Tuck, who resigned two days after the scale of the problem emerged, said it sprang from data management failures in the "hitherto rock-solid reliable" operations department. He admitted that the SQA might have focused so closely on the challenges of a new examination and computer system that it did not pay enough attention to other areas. But Mr Miller said the staff involved had dealt "immaculately" with previous examinations.
Data submitted to the SQA by schools and colleges had been going missing, but Mr Tuck said he had not been alerted to any data management problems.
Both men, who were praised for their candour by acting committee convener Annabel Goldie, said they had not known the scale of the problem the day before results were issued. Asked whether staff had lied to him, Mr Tuck said: "I have no reason to distrust the good faith and integrity of any member of staff with one possible exception." He was not pressed to reveal who this was.
Mr Miller said: "The ethos is not one where you would expect to find people withholding information because they would expect retribution, but we didn't have anyone who came to the board who said this is going to be a monumental problem."
An internal report by acting chief executive Bill Morton has claimed there was a "blame culture" in the operations department that made staff unwilling to highlight problems and seek help. Mr Miller said the SQA had a whistleblowing policy, but this did not mean it could make people blow the whistle.
The SQA is currently dealing with between 300 and 400 urgent appeals from candidates who must apply by mid-October for elite university courses beginning in 2001. The SQA last week completed 6,441 appeals from candidates going into higher education this autumn, 40 per cent of which were successful. The urgent appeals are among a total of more than 34,500 queried grades.
The Times HigherJseptember 29J2000news 3 Brighton up: Malcolm Wicks said it was a 'scandal' that people complain about standards