Days after the start of Year 12 exams, doubts have been raised about the reliability of South Australian school results amid upheaval within the state’s education assessment agency.

Key points:

  • A union letter to the head of the SACE Board expressed concern at the rate of recent staff turnover
  • It said 51 staff had left in the past 12 months, with eight more preparing to leave
  • The government said it was confident in the exam process, and that results would be delivered on time

Public Service Association (PSA) general secretary Nev Kitchin has written to the chief executive of the SACE Board of South Australia, expressing concern about high staff turnover and “dissatisfaction” in the last 12 months, citing a “destructive culture” within the organisation.

But the SACE Board has hit back, insisting the “integrity” of results will not be impacted and accusing the union of “scaremongering” at a potentially stressful time for students.

The PSA letter, signed by current and former SACE Board employees and addressed to Professor Martin Westwell, states that 51 staff have left the agency in the past 12 months, including 19 curriculum and assessment officers.

It further claims that another eight staff members “will not be returning next year”, and warns of a loss of “significant corporate knowledge” that could compromise the quality of Year 12 exam moderation and the delivery of feedback to schools.

Potential impacts on students include delayed and “incorrect” results, the letter states.

South Australia’s exam period began on Tuesday with language assessments, with the bulk of the tests to begin on November 1.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Helen Connolly said the unrest came at a difficult time for students as well as teachers preparing for their end-of-year exams.

“Anything that delays them getting those answers and results — it’s not going to be devastating but it’s not going to make their day,” she said.

Ms Connolly said teachers, not just students, would be adversely impacted by any delays in delivering results.(ABC News)

But Professor Westwell backed the SACE Board’s assessment processes, saying that results would be delivered to students as scheduled on December 13.

“The integrity of the results is not at risk. We’ve got the right people with the right skills, and enough of them, to make sure that we get results out on time,” he said.

Professor Westwell conceded that there had been changes to the SACE Board, including to its staffing, but said those changes were in the best interests of students.

“There has been some disruption at the SACE Board because we’re looking for change,” he said.

“We want to develop the SACE in a way that supports teachers to support students to thrive, and that change means that some people have felt disruption, and some people haven’t wanted to come on that journey with us.”

In response to PSA calls for an independent inquiry into the SACE Board’s leadership, Professor Westwell said the organisation “won’t be dictated to by the union”, but that it would consider the matter.

“Whenever you receive a letter like this or any kind of criticism you need to take that seriously … and we’ll be looking at a solution, but it won’t necessarily be an independent inquiry,” he said.

‘No reason to be concerned’, Government says

Citing the results of a recent staff satisfaction survey, the PSA letter stated there was a “lack of confidence in leadership, a destructive culture and environment, and the need for immediate action”.

Labor education spokesperson Blair Boyer said there was a need for a “thorough, third-party investigation” into the “incredibly high” staff turnover.

“Every student who is approaching Year 12 and every parent of a Year 12 student would be extremely alarmed to read that there is the possibility that the resources will not be there in SACE to get the results and make sure that the results for those Year 12 students are accurate, he said.

But government frontbencher Corey Wingard expressed confidence in the SACE Board.

“What they are telling government is that everything is on track, and we have no reason to be concerned,” Mr Wingard said.

Meanwhile, Labor has continued to drip-feed details of its education policy, after yesterday announcing it would hold a royal commission into early learning.

The Opposition today said it would spend $50 million to fund 100 child mental health and learning support specialists in public schools, if it wins next year’s state election.

The government called on Labor to explain how it would fund the project without making cuts to other programs.

Posted , updated