Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Rod Grant
06 August 2020
“I award the SQA a fail”: A headteacher on this year's exam results

eflon via Flickr

“I award the SQA a fail”: A headteacher on this year's exam results

I am beyond angry.

The SQA, in its infinite wisdom, appears to know our pupils better than we do. There were 436 presentations in the school this session and of those 138 were downgraded. This means that 32 per cent of our estimates were deemed inappropriate.

What does that mean? Essentially it says that the professionalism of my teachers in reaching their estimates is being called into question; that the SQA is openly questioning our assessment credibility.

The estimates provided to the SQA were honest, sincere, justified, fully evidenced and moderated within faculties. Following this lengthy and arduous process, we know that the estimates provided were a true reflection of each candidate’s achievements.

However, to ensure that the SQA’s statistical model remained ‘credible’, a whole section of individual pupils have been disadvantaged through no fault of their own.

Is it not the ultimate irony when members of our teaching staff have been invited to assess appeals but whose own results have been called into question?

I sincerely hope the SQA are ready to deal with the 125,000 appeals that are now likely to land on its desk. I wonder who they will ask to do the marking? The teachers whose judgement they clearly cannot trust?

The SQA is a government agency that polices itself. There is no external scrutiny, and this lack of accountability needs rectified as a matter of urgency. The organization is no longer fit for purpose.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government claims that had it not agreed to the downward moderation of grades, that the potential ‘inflation of grades’ would have affected the value and credibility of national qualifications. But this is totally wrong – had teachers’ professional judgement been rubber-stamped this may actually have increased the credibility of using continuous assessment as the tool by which awards are made – as in the Scandinavian model.

It would have also made the SQA look as if it actually trusted teachers. You can’t trust teachers 75 per cent of the time, particularly when those same teachers whose grade estimates have been downgraded are then enlisted and entrusted to mark the appeals.

I would also highlight that there are many teachers who are team leaders and markers for the SQA whose grades have been downgraded despite getting their estimates year in, year out, absolutely spot on. That ironic situation is irrational and illogical. I know of one pupil who was estimated an A (not at this school) and received an award of D. Is that a ‘credible’ result?

You cannot compare continuous assessment results with examination results. Any educationalist with even half a brain could tell you that pupils’ achievement in continuous assessment is going to be far higher than the results where the main reliance is on a high-stakes, panic-inducing examination.

Pupils can misinterpret the question, can answer a question that has not been asked, are in a context that is very different from the school classroom (often with an invigilator they do not know) and, on top of all of this, are nervous about the prospect of failure. An award based on continuous assessment has fewer of these pitfalls. Why can’t a system be predicated on success rather than predicated on failure? Do we question the pass marks in Undergraduate courses at University?

The fact that so many teachers and Head teachers have to announce their criticisms under the cloak of anonymity tells you everything you need to know about the politicization of our education system. No one is allowed to criticize. We are pretty close to be living in the most totalitarian system in Europe where honest appraisal is not allowed if it contravenes the ‘party line’. This is not only dangerous, it is educationally ignorant.

What a sad indictment that at a time when trillions of pounds has been spent on grants, on the furlough scheme, on the reduction of VAT, on the ‘two meals for one’ policy, where every aspect of our society has been listened to and helped, that it is our young who get royally fleeced.

The situation is nothing short of a complete shambles and the time is ripe to ensure that whole-scale change takes place. A full-scale independent review should be enacted as a matter of urgency.

Rod Grant, Headmaster at Clifton Hall School

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Rod Grant - Comment: Children no longer matter.



Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top