Calls for review of exam marking ‘fiasco’
John Swinney has been accused of “baking in” inequality into Scotland’s education system, as calls increase for an inquiry into this year’s moderation of exam results by the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority).
The results saw a quarter of marks changed from teachers’ recommendations, with pupils from more deprived areas particularly affected, leading Scottish Labour to call for an urgent review into the downgrading of more than 124,000 exam results by the SQA, which it says has left pupils across Scotland unfairly penalised because of where they go they school.
Labour also wants John Swinney to instruct the SQA to make public the methodology for marking appeals to ensure that pupils, teachers and parents have confidence in the system.
And the Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for Audit Scotland to investigate the measures used by the SQA to determine this year's exam results.
Teachers were asked to submit predicted grades on behalf of their pupils this year because exams were cancelled due to coronavirus, but around a quarter of marks were changed to make the overall results fit better with averages from previous years.
Statistics released by the SQA reveal that approximately 133,000 grades were adjusted, 93 per cent of them downwards and seven per cent upwards.
In addition, results were more likely to be downgraded for the those in more deprived areas, where the percentage of reductions was 15.2 per cent, than in the most affluent ones, where only 6.9 per cent were reduced.
Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, Iain Gray, accused education secretary John Swinney of “baking in” inequality into Scotland’s education system and has said that unless he apologises to the young people of Scotland and rectifies the failure, he cannot continue in the role.
Gray said: “All across Scotland, parents, pupils and teachers are united in outrage over John Swinney’s failure of the poorest students in our society.
“We urgently need a review into this fiasco to determine whether the downgrading of results by area has infringed the human rights of pupils.
“If John Swinney does not commit to this review and does not apologise to the young people of Scotland and seek to mitigate the damage, he has wrought then his position is not sustainable.
“Scottish Labour is calling on the people of Scotland to sign our petition to ensure that John Swinney is held to account for his actions.”
Rennie said: “The Education Secretary and the SQA were warned for months that their moderation process would embed inequality and potentially damage the prospects of bright pupils for life.
“The SQA refused transparency, scrutiny and discussion of the methodology that has led to this injustice on a such large scale.
“Audit Scotland should now look into whether this methodology was fit for purpose.
“It is unacceptable that pupils have been downgraded for exams they didn’t sit based on the historical performance of their school.
“We must have confidence in the process used by the Scottish Qualifications Agency especially if next year’s exams are cancelled too and this exercise has to be repeated.
“A thorough investigation by Audit Scotland should be done to rectify these problems and ensure lesson have been learned.
“Young people have made tremendous sacrifices over the past six months.
“They do not deserve to see their futures carved up by a computer algorithm based on where they happen to live.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Greens have called for the principle of ‘no detriment’ to be put in place, which would see young people be given a grade no lower than what they achieved in their prelim.
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “The SQA and the Scottish Government were warned by the Greens, yet they pressed ahead with this scandalous grade moderation system, one that has clearly penalised thousands of young people simply for living in less well-off communities.
“A no-detriment policy might not solve all of the problems created by the SQA, but it would see a significant number of young people be awarded a grade far closer to the one they deserve.
“I’ve been shocked by the messages from young people who achieved an A in their prelims but were then awarded C or even D grades by the SQA.
“Universities in Scotland and around the globe immediately adopted no-detriment policies when the pandemic began and it became clear that normal exams would not be possible.
“It’s time for the SQA and Scottish Government to begin repairing the damage they have caused by adopting a no-detriment policy now.
“Scotland’s exam system entrenches inequality and the system which replaced it this year was designed to simply preserve rather than tackle that.
“It’s long past time that the Scottish Government took seriously the job of supporting young people in our most deprived communities by radically reforming this deeply unjust system.”
New Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross called for pupils should be allowed to choose to take their existing result or sit exams this coming autumn or receive their prelim grade.
He said: “Pupils, parents and teachers have contacted me to say they feel let down by what has happened and the lack of solutions that have been proposed.
“In light of the exceptional circumstances of the last academic year, it is only fair that pupils are given every single chance to succeed.
“We should allow pupils far more flexibility and give all pupils – no matter their background – every opportunity to get the grades they deserve.
“Pupils have already earned their prelim grades and if they are determined enough to want to sit the exam later this year, they should be encouraged to do so in order to give themselves the best possible future, with those waiting on university places receiving first priority.
“The futures of an entire year group of young Scots are in the balance. It’s not just their exam results that have been downgraded, but their life chances. That cannot be allowed to stand.”
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has defended the SQA’s handling of the grades, saying that without the amendments the system would not have been “credible”.
“This moderation is necessary to ensure we have a credible system of results,” she said on Tuesday.
Sturgeon promised that if misjudgements had been made, everyone would have an opportunity to have it rectified and the results were “not the end of the journey”.