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Scottish pupils to get exam results upgraded after government U-turn

Flickr, Eric E Castro, CC BY 2.0

Scottish pupils to get exam results upgraded after government U-turn

All pupils who had their exam results downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will be reissued with grades based on teacher or lecturer judgement, Education Secretary John Swinney has announced.

The U-turn over the SQA-moderated results follows widespread criticism and protests.

Around 134,000 teacher estimates were adjusted by the SQA, with just under 76,000 pupils having one or more results lowered.

Pupils from poorest backgrounds were hardest hit, with results being downgraded based on a school’s past performance rather than a pupil’s individual ability.

The pupils impacted will now be issued with new certificates based solely on teacher judgement, without reference to historical patterns.

Swinney apologised to the young people whose estimated marks were reduced by the SQA and admitted that the Scottish Government “got this wrong”.

He said: “These are exceptional times, and in exceptional times truly difficult decisions are made. In speaking directly to the young people affected by the downgrading of awards – 75,000 pupils whose teacher estimates were higher than their final award – I want to say this: I am sorry.

“I have listened and the message is clear. They don’t just want an apology, they want to see this fixed and that is exactly what I will now do. To resolve this issue all downgraded awards will be withdrawn. I am directing the SQA to re-issue those awards based solely on teacher or lecturer judgement.

“We now accept that the risk of undermining the value of qualifications is outweighed by a concern that young people, particularly from working class backgrounds, may lose faith in education and form the view that no matter how hard you work, the system is against you. Education is the route out of poverty for young people in deprived communities and we cannot risk allowing that view to take hold.

“The SQA will issue fresh certificates to affected candidates as soon as possible and, importantly, will inform UCAS and other admission bodies of the new grades as soon as practical in the coming days to allow for applications to college and university to be progressed.”

In addition to adjusting exam results to reflect teacher estimates, pupils whose entries were adjusted up by the SQA will retain the higher grade.

The Scottish Government will also ensure enough places at colleges and universities so that all places awarded to young people can be taken up.

Swinney also confirmed that Professor Mark Priestly, of Stirling University, will conduct an independent review of the events following the cancellation of the exam diet and make recommendations for the coming year. This will initially report within five weeks

Meanwhile, the OECD’s ongoing independent review of Curriculum for Excellence will be asked to include recommendations on how to transform Scotland’s approach to assessment and qualifications, based on global best practice.

Swinney said: “We will look to learn lessons from the process to awarding qualifications this year that will help to inform any future actions.

“An independent review, led by Professor Mark Priestly of Stirling University, will look at events following the cancellation of the examination diet and given the urgency, I have asked for an initial report with recommendations on how we should go forward this coming year within five weeks.”

Swinney added: “I would like to thank all of Scotland’s children, young people and adult learners for the incredible resilience they have shown throughout the COVID-19 epidemic.

“We are immensely proud of all that they have achieved. I hope that our pupils now move forward confidently to their next step in education, employment or training with the qualifications that teachers or lecturers have judged were deserved.”

Swinney has come under fire over the moderation process and calls have been made for him to resign.

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “Will the Education Secretary explain why he did not listen to warnings in April in May, in June, in July, that this is exactly what was going to happen?

“And when it did happen, why did he not act immediately? Why did he defend the results of the moderation for five days?

“Why was there no contrition, no apology, no U-turn until now? Why did he leave these young people twisting in the wind for a week, hopes and aspirations in shreds?

“I commend him for taking responsibility now and trying to fix this. But I ask him, will he take responsibility for this happening in the first place, and resign?”

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