the education minister yesterday praised the Scottish Qualifications Authority for delivering 99.7% of exam results accurately and on time to 135,000 candidates.

And Jack McConnell acted to give the SQA some future stability by extending the appointments of John Ward, its interim chairman, Bill Morton, chief executive, and some board members and seconded staff, which had been due to expire at the end of the month.

A permanent chief executive will be appointed in November when Mr Morton returns to Scottish Enterprise. The minister said a new chief would be appointed regardless of the future status of the SQA, which is under review.

His announcement came as the Scottish National Party called for the SQA to be scrapped as part of a radical reform of Scotland's whole examinations culture.

Of the review, Mr McConnell said: ''To avoid unnecessary disruption to the continuing work of the SQA, I will progress this review swiftly and announce the outcome early in the autumn.

''Alongside work on the future of the SQA, the executive is committed to work on simplification of the national qualifications framework, building on the lessons of the first two years.''

But Mike Russell, SNP shadow education minister, continued his attack on the exams body after its embarrassing blunder on results day when it made an inaccurate comparison with candidates' performance in 2000, claiming Higher passes had risen 7.1% rather than the true figure of 1.3%.

Mr Russell said the error had marred the release of exam results and yesterday tabled a Scottish Parliament motion calling on ministers to bring forward swift proposals to simplify the Higher Still exam system.

Calling for the SQA to be scrapped in its present form, he also urged the executive to come up with early proposals for the creation of ''an appropriate, effective and accountable body'' for Scotland's national school and college examination system.

Mr Russell said: ''Yesterday's conclusion of this year's examination diet was achieved only by superhuman effort on the part of teachers, young people and ordinary SQA staff - and also at a cost of something over (pounds) 11m in emergency funds.

''Even so, the process was marred by the inability of the SQA to issue the correct statistics on its own operation.''

He accused Mr McConnell of complacency in the face of a threatened boycott of Higher Still exams by teachers.

But Brian Monteith, Scottish Tory education spokesman, attacked the SNP, saying: ''The SNP needs to come into the real world. It wants to get rid of the SQA to replace it with another body that does the same job.

The SQA has just emerged from 12 months of hard toil to produce what appears to be near-perfect exam results. The hitch in the data about the exact level of pass rates for Highers is an embarrassment - but no more than that. To suggest that this is a reason to abolish the authority because their data cannot be trusted is infantile.

''The real debate should be about how the SQA develops and about the future of the exams system. If Higher Still is a better way forward and more pupils sat exams suited to their level of achievement, we have to ask why the pass rate was only 1.3% better than the previous year.''

The executive has two real options in its review of the status of the SQA - turning it into an executive agency directly answerable to the minister, or allowing it to remain as a non-departmental public body but with a changed board structure.

Many believe the latter option will be favoured as it removes the body from the possibility of political interference in the setting and marking of exams.

CBI Scotland warned against any moves to scrap the SQA and the national qualifications system. It said it supported simplification of the system, but internal assessment, and the unit structure of qualifications, should be kept.

Hugh Currie, CBI Scotland chairman, said: ''The future of our national qualifications and the SQA needs to be made on a rational basis and not as a knee-jerk reaction to yesterday's publication of one wrong statistic.''