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by Louise Wilson
30 September 2021
Calls for SQA chiefs to resign over equality failings

Fiona Robertson became chief executive of the SQA in July 2019

Calls for SQA chiefs to resign over equality failings

The heads of the beleaguered Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) must resign over equality failures, Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems have said.

The exams body has been pulled up by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for not routinely assessing its policies against the public sector equality duty.

The duty, a legal requirement placed on all public bodies, obligates them to consider how decisions effect people who are protected under the Equality Act.

The EHRC said the SQA was not giving due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “This news makes it clear that the position of the SQA leadership is untenable – they should resign today.

“We know that in recent years, the decisions they have taken have damaged the poorest and most disadvantaged pupils in Scotland.

“But what this undeniably confirms is that that there has been a complete lack of leadership within the organisation and from the Scottish Government.”

The SQA came under fire last year for downgrading thousands of pupils across Scotland based on the historic performance of their school.

This meant those living in the most deprived areas in Scotland were far more likely to see their grades lowered than their more affluent counterparts.

The Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “Many of us warned the SQA for years that it was failing in its equalities duties, so this finding by the EHRC and the new agreement are certainly welcome.

“But it should not have taken an intervention by the Commission for these arrangements to be put in place.

“It’s clear that oversight of the exams agency has been totally insufficient for years. The board of management absolutely must resign after this damning report.”

And Lib Dem education spokesperson Willie Rennie said: “It's a serious matter for the SQA to be rebuked in this manner.

“It should never be necessary for a public body responsible for the futures of our children to be chided for its failure to meet its human rights obligations. 

“The position of the chief executive of the SQA is untenable. She has to go without delay.”

The body has now signed an agreement with the EHRC to improve its equality practices, which will be monitored over the next two years.

Lynn Welsh, head of legal at the EHRC, said: “Considering equality implications when making decisions isn’t a ‘nice to do’ for public bodies, it is a legal requirement to ensure that public institutions make better quality, robust decisions which work for everyone.

“By signing this agreement, we are pleased to see that the SQA has demonstrated its clear commitment to equality and to improving its practices. This will ensure that SQA continues to make necessary improvements in this area, reviewing all existing policies and ensuring that equality is at the heart of all of its practices.”

The SQA said it has “tightened up” its efforts on equality impact assessments in recent years, including a review of policies and practices.

Mike Baxter, director of finance and corporate services, said: “We recognise there is work to do to improve our processes and practice from years gone by.

“We will be taking this opportunity to work with the Commission to further embed equality into our policies and processes across SQA’s activities. Over the next two years we will be delivering our agreed action plan across a range of work streams.

“We are fully committed to ensuring equality and fairness are at the heart of all we do.”

The Scottish Government has previously announced its intention to scrap the SQA and replace it with a new body.

The move was recommended by the OECD following a review of the curriculum for excellence.

However, the timeline for its replacement is not yet known.

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - Strikes could be start of ‘long winter of school closures’ warns Labour MSP

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