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First Minister has full confidence in SQA after criticism over pupil assessments

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Fraser Bremner/PA Images)

First Minister has full confidence in SQA after criticism over pupil assessments

The First Minister has said she has full confidence in the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), after criticism was directed at the public body over its handling of pupil assessments.

Nicola Sturgeon said her government are doing their utmost "to deliver fair grades" in what she described as the "very difficult circumstances" caused by the pandemic.

Exams were cancelled in Scotland for the second year in a row, with grades instead being based on teacher judgement throughout the school year.

However, as schools were closed at the start of 2021, many pupils had to sit multiple assessments throughout April to meet the SQA’s “demonstrated attainment” criteria - leading to more focus being placed on the appeals process.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross asked Sturgeon at FMQ's if she has "full confidence" in the SQA, to which she replied: "Yes I do."

She said: "Many of the arrangements we are putting in place are very similar to those being put in place in England and Wales, under governments of all parties. I think that reflects the fact that this is a difficult situation."

Sturgeon quoted Jim Thewliss of School Leaders Scotand, who said the system replacing exams was never going to be perfect, but no-one has come up with a better system than the alternative certification model.

Ross said: "The First Minister has said she has full confidence in the Scottish Qualifications Authority. That answer will not be shared by tens of thousands of pupils and parents across Scotland who were so badly let down by the SQA and its exam grade disaster last year, and it won't be shared by thousands more who are now facing what looks like another year of grades chaos and confusion."

Sturgeon replied that it was her duty to persuade young people and parents that, while no government "can take away all of the impacts of a global pandemic" her government is working with teachers, councils, representatives of pupils and parents, and the SQA, to "deliver fairness" in a "highly challenging set of circumstances."

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced yesterday students will be able to appeal directly to the SQA for free for the first time under the alternative certification mode.

But the process will mean grades can be revised down as well as up, prompting criticism from opposition parties.

Ross said in parliament today: "The Scottish Children and Young People's Commissioner has said on the threat of downgrading that it is, and I quote, an unnecessary and disempowering barrier for young people.

"That is a concern that will be echoed in homes and classrooms across Scotland so is the First Minister seriously going to defend an appeal system that risks pupils receiving lower grades and demands they gamble on their future?"

Sturgeon replied that the symmetrical system is one that "ensures that the attainment of pupils is central to this process".

She added: "That is the fairest way of proceeding. That's not new. That has been the approach taken in past years."

The First Minister also said the downgrading of grades is "exceptionally rare".

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