South Australia’s high school certification authority risked sending out late or inaccurate exam results to the state’s school leavers as recently as 2011, an independent investigation has found, and substandard IT has copped the blame.
The report into business processes of the the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) Board was handed to the Department of Education in September last year, but has only recently been made public via a freedom of information request by opposition MP David Pisoni.
The SACE caused waves back in the 1990s when students didn’t receive their results on time due to processing faults, the report said, and history threatened to repeat itself in 2011.
The investigation found that the SACE Board – which oversees the collection and marking of the final high school examination program – is “fundamentally suited to high levels of computerisation” but is being held back by an unsustainable funding model.
The report has complained of generally inadequate funding levels described as “well short of what would be required for maintaining the status quo, let alone meeting the demands for e-business” – intermittently punctuated with sizeable cash injections for short term initiatives.
“The significant funding shortfall has been masked to some extent by periodic injections of special purpose funding but that is a dangerous strategy when the business need is so constant, or even increasing.”
- SACE Board Information Services Independent Review of Resources & Directions
The consequence of this long-term uncertainty is a reliance on paper-based manual processes that the review team said was “hard to imagine” in contemporary times.
In a normal year the SACE will manually scan 180,000 sheets of paper including exam marks sheets, registration slips and feedback forms, it found.
While funding has been forthcoming to remediate the situation in the past, the report points out that on repeated occasions this money reserved for IT has been diverted away to other purposes.
In 2006-07 only $5 million of $7.3 million allocated to upgrading IT to meet the demands of a new SACE format ultimately filtered through to technology expenditure. Again in 2010-11 $8.2 million was set aside for the “rejuvenation” of SACE software, of which a “significant portion” was spent on other areas.
An additional consequence of the funding dynamism is a huge reliance on short-term and contract labour – which comprises as much as 60 percent of the small IT workforce – preventing the SACE Board from building its internal knowledge and skills, the report said.
The report has recommended that special project funding and ongoing funding be bundled into a single sustained budget stream.
South Australian Education Minister Jennifer Rankine, however, has defended the level of funding given to the authority.
Her office pointed to yet another injection - this time for $7.6 million - in 2012 which has already paid for subject specific websites for teachers, electronic submission of school assessment marks and a new enrolment management system.
It will also cover a new data warehouse that is yet to be completed.
"The State Government is committed to working with the SACE Board to meet the Board’s longer-term ICT requirements," said a spokesperson for the minister.