SCOTLAND'S examinations body has been accused of dumbing down a number of Highers in the wake of a row over this year's mathematics exam.

Carole Ford, chair of the Scottish Secondary Mathematics Group, said qualifications had become easier in other subjects as well – including languages.

Her comments came after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was accused of dumbing down this year's Higher maths paper. Clive Chambers, a former principal examiner of maths for the SQA, said the 2013 paper was easier than any previous paper he had seen.

The criticism, which was backed up by a number of teachers, came after the entire setting team for this year's qualification walked out after an internal dispute.

At the time, those who left warned the SQA would struggle to produce a quality paper because of the lack of expertise left at the exam body.

However, Ms Ford, a former president of the School Leaders' Scotland head teaching union and former head of Kilmarnock Academy, said the issue of making exams easier should not be confused with the dispute. She said: "The particular circumstances surrounding this year's Higher Mathematics exam should not obscure the fact that the standard of all SQAexaminations has been steadily falling for many years."

In mathematics, Ms Ford said a 1970s multiple-choice paper of 40 questions included 19 on topics now taught at Advanced Higher level. She went on to highlight concerns about Higher language exams, which no longer require pupils to translate a passage from English into the language being examined.

"If you have ever wondered why the number of exam passes has risen steadily while, simultaneously, fewer young people seem capable of performing simple arithmetic procedures, or determining the correct location of an apostrophe, here is your answer," she added.

However, Dr Gill Stewart, director of qualifications development at the SQA, said the body was committed to maintaining the highest standards.

"It understands the importance of monitoring standards over time and has detailed and robust processes in place to do this," she said.

"Experts in specific subjects will examine a range of documents such as question papers, marking instructions and candidates' scripts over a number of years to compare standards and reports are produced and action taken where appropriate."

She also stressed qualifications needed to evolve over time to reflect the changing needs of society and the job market, adding: "In areas like computing and engineering, for example, technological advances have had a major impact on qualifications."

Commenting on the concerns raised in The Herald yesterday, Scottish Labour education spokesman Hugh Henry called for an inquiry by Holyrood education committee. He said: "These are serious allegations and they come on the back of the departure of the senior Higher Maths exam team at the SQA. Pupils, employers and universities need to know that standards are being maintained and we believe MSPs should conduct an inquiry."