SCOTTISH pupils are facing a summer of exam chaos after unions at the country’s national qualifications’ body agreed to a ballot on strike action.

The ballot, to be held by the Unite union next week, could lead to widespread disruption throughout the forthcoming exam diet with refusal by staff to process candidates' marks.

That could mean pupils not receiving their exam certificates for qualifications such as Higher, National 5 and Advanced Higher - which could impact on their ability to take up university and college places or employment.

The row comes after a restructuring within the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) which Unite says has been botched, leaving experienced staff without meaningful roles.

Read more: All you need to know about the SQA strike threat

Unite and the SQA have been holding talks at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), but union leaders said these were not proving productive.

Alison MacLean, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “We have tried to negotiate a fair process on organisational change at SQA, but management and human resources have presided over a shambolic and chaotic process which has left many workers in limbo.

"Unite has many members who have either been displaced, had to apply for new roles or not been matched to suitable roles had the proper process been followed.

Read more: Chief executive of Scotland's exam body set to retire

“We initially held off opening this industrial ballot hoping an agreement at Acas could have been reached, but there has been no sense of urgency on the part of SQA to resolve the outstanding issues."

Ms MacLean accused the SQA of "playing for time" in an effort to ensure any potential strike did not affect the exam diet.

She added: "We will now hold our first ever ballot from next week in an effort to get management to take the concerns of our members seriously and to ensure no other member of staff has to endure the stress and anxiety many workers have experienced.

"If they do not, industrial disruption at SQA during the exam period and at results time will be inevitable.”

An SQA spokesman said the organisation continued to work "co-operatively and collaboratively" with the trade unions and were still holding formal discussions about the issues raised.

He said: “We are continuing with formal discussions about the issues raised under the auspices of Acas and will be meeting again at the beginning of May.

“The 2019 exams diet is on track. SQA is, as always, committed to ensuring that candidates receive their results on time.

"We have an established governance framework in place, where progress and risks are managed, supported by robust contingency plans.

“SQA’s most valuable asset is our people. SQA is totally committed to ... providing everyone with the support, development and career progression opportunities they require to enable SQA to deliver for the people and economy of Scotland.”

While the details of potential action are not yet fully clear it could mean a refusal by SQA staff to process candidates' marks, meaning pupils would not receive exam certificates.

Unoins could also take action short of strikes because staff are routinely working over their contracted hours in key departments handling the preparation of exam papers, the processing of data and support for marking, as well as the production of exam certificates.

SQA staff also spend time during and after the exam period supporting candidates.

This involves answering pupil queries on a national helpline and the processing of appeals.

Action short of strike action in the form of a work to rule could disrupt those processes without necessarily derailing the whole exam diet.

The dispute at the SQA has come to the boil after more than a year of dissatisfaction over restructuring and modernisation of IT systems, which has resulted in some staff being given new roles.

Read more: Teachers have "lost confidence" in the SQA

While the restructuring of the IT department will involve an overall increase in staff the union is concerned that existing members have been overlooked for the new roles and are not being given the opportunity to retrain.

Staff elsewhere in the SQA are concerned about the changes because there are plans to restructure other departments.

A separate grievance centres on what unions describe as a "severe and serious breach of confidentiality" by SQA managers.

This comes after the identities of individuals involved in a grievance about the wider restructuring process were revealed internally against the SQA's own policies.

An indicative ballot in February by th Unite union found 96 per cent of members backed a vote of no confidence in senior management and 89 per cent supported potential strike action up to and during the examination period.