THE SNP have been urged to act quickly to prevent "exams chaos" arising from potential strike action by staff of the Scottish Qualifications Authority over ministers' plans to scrap it.

The Herald revealed that exams in Scotland face disruption as strike action is threatened in a dispute over a "failure" to consult with staff of the SQA over ministers' plans to scrap it.

The union Unite issued the warning while confirming there will be a consultative ballot on strike action at the SQA claiming that after four months, the workforce has been "locked out" of discussions over their futures and the new educational standards body. The SQA said that any threat of industrial action "is disappointing and not in the interests of learners.”

Unite, which has the biggest union representation in the SQA covering senior heads of services right down to the most junior members of staff began a consultative ballot over industrial action on Monday. Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Michael Marra has called for urgent action.

“The SNP government must act immediately to prevent yet another year of exams chaos as a result of their own mismanagement," he said.

“The SQA is being scrapped by the SNP because of the disastrous policies cooked up between the government and the leadership of the organisation.

“Staff in the SQA warned their failed leaders of the consequences of awarding grades by algorithm but they were ignored and now are worried for their own job security.

“Labour have repeatedly raised this issue with the Cabinet Secretary, seeking guarantees that staff won’t pay the price for her incompetent predecessors. It is disappointing that when I met her last week she couldn’t give staff reassurances.”

The government said in June that the changes would be made in response to an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which backed the curriculum as a whole but it said there was too much focus on exams in later years of schooling.

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The pandemic also brought particular focus onto the school qualifications system, with criticism about how grades were decided after formal exams were cancelled two years running.

In response to this, the government announced that the SQA was to be broken up and replaced, with schools agency Education Scotland also set for a shakeup and a new independent system for school inspections to be set up.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said at the time there would be a "period of change" to "improve, to achieve more and to deliver for Scotland's pupils".

But union leaders say that since then the 1000 staff within the SQA have been left with their jobs under threat and with no information about whether they will still have jobs with the new regime.

Professor Ken Muir, the former chief executive of the General Teaching Council, is leading efforts to replace the SQA with a new specialist agency for curriculum and assessment and investigate moving the inspection function away from Education Scotland.

The union says there have been a number of staff resignations in recent weeks since the announcement of the scrapping of the SQA and has raised concerns about the loss of experience. They also claim that there is also a difficulty in filling vacancies in the soon-to-be defunct exams body.

Alison MacLean, Unite industrial officer said there was concern that plans to replace the SQA might take years to complete, with an indication legislation might need to be passed, while staff remained in limbo.

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She said the Scottish Government had failed to consult with unions and the workforce over the SQA replacement and also repeatedly failed to provide any meaningful responses to the "serious and pressing questions" from the workforce on job security, and what the shape of the new education standards and qualifications body will look like.

She says this is a breach of the Scottish Government's own Fair Work principles whereby decisions "appear to have already made which offer no job security to our members which is why we are a launching an imminent consultative ballot on strike action".