Publication:

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - 2021-11-21

Data:

Pupils face yet MORE chaos as exam quango staff threaten to strike

Charlotte Griffiths

By Dawn Thompson

A STRIKE by staff at Scotland’s troubled exams body is set to move closer this week – amid claims the Scottish Government has failed to try to resolve the dispute. The prospect of further disruption for pupils sitting exams follows an announcement this year by Ministers that the scandal-hit Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is to be scrapped. National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers are scheduled to take place next year after they were cancelled during the pandemic. But now the exams could be disrupted by industrial action. The Unite union says SQA staff have been left in limbo with no job security. The consultative ballot on strike action by the union closes tomorrow. If staff vote in favour, it clears the way for a further ballot on industrial action, up to and including a strike. Last night, Unite regional industrial officer Alison MacLean accused both the Government and SQA management of failing to act. She said: ‘The situation’s an absolute nightmare. There hasn’t been anything since we opened the ballot. We wrote to the Cabinet Secretary and it hit the media and there’s been nothing. ‘We’ve not had any communication – they’ve not reached out to us in any way to make any effort to try to resolve things. ‘We’ve been promised a response from the Cabinet Secretary and Scottish Government and there’s not been anything forthcoming. The Scottish Government made the decision to scrap the SQA... it would appear that they’ve got to try to face the consequences of that decision and they’re now beginning to understand what it means in terms of the workforce.’ Ms MacLean added: ‘The SQA are saying they’re talking to the Scottish Government to try to put pressure on them as well, but to what extent? They’re not engaging with us on the basis of providing reassurances to their staff.’ It is expected to be known within days whether members support a ballot on industrial action. The SQA needs to be given seven days’ notice of intention to ballot. Any ballot would be open for a minimum of two weeks. Ms MacLean said any action would be ‘well into next year’. Jo Bisset, organiser for parents’ campaign group UFTScotland, said: ‘Children have been failed by adults for the duration of this pandemic. Now that seems set to continue with this threat of strike action, which will impact on pupils more than anyone. ‘It’s time for the grown-ups in charge to knock their heads together and make sure this strike does not go ahead.’ Last year, the SQA sparked a scandal after 124,000 results were downgraded by an algorithm, with poorer pupils worst affected. Yesterday, an SQA spokesman said: ‘SQA management has continually pressed the Scottish Government for commitments on job security for staff since it announced in June that SQA is to be replaced. ‘We understand the Scottish Government is actively considering the issue. Any threat of industrial action is disappointing and not in the interests of learners.’ A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We appreciate that the announcement to replace SQA has caused uncertainty for staff and we are committed to ensuring that employment rights are protected. ‘The matters raised by staff and unions are being carefully considered and we will continue to work with SQA management, staff and unions to try to address concerns.’

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