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by Jenni Davidson
07 August 2020
SQA chief to face Holyrood education committee over handling of exam results

Fiona Robertson - Image credit: Scottish Parliament youtube

SQA chief to face Holyrood education committee over handling of exam results

The head of the SQA will face MSPs at Holyrood next week to justify the public body’s handling of this year’s exam results.

Scottish Qualifications Authority chief executive Fiona Robertson will appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee on Wednesday 12 August.

The committee want to question Robertson on the SQA’s moderation of the exam results, which saw a quarter of the marks changed from teachers’ estimates.

Around 133,000 grades provided by teachers were adjusted by the SQA based on the school’s past performance rather than evidence of the individual pupil’s ability.

Most of the changes, 93 per cent, were to a lower mark, and four per cent were changed up or down by more than one grade.

In some cases, pupils saw a predicted A grade reduced to a fail for no clear reason.

Young people from deprived backgrounds and poorer performing schools have been disproportionately affected, with 15.2 per cent of marks lowered in the most deprived areas compared to 6.9 per cent in the most affluent ones.

This confirmed concerns raised by committee members in May that the proposed process for moderation of marks could adversely affect pupils from poorer-performing schools.

MSPs had called then for the methodology for moderating teachers’ grades to be published as soon as possible so that it could be scrutinised, but the process was only revealed after the exam results were announced this week.

In a letter to Robertson on 8 May, committee convener Clare Adamson wrote: “Only by being able to understand the detail of the processes to be followed can the public be assured that the system for arriving at grades will be consistent and fair.

“On that basis the detail of processes being followed need to be published in full as quickly as possible. A key example of this is details of the moderation process.

“The committee has real concerns about the use of past performance of a school or a statistical distribution curve to inform decisions on the final grades of individuals.

“As confirmed in your evidence, prior attainment of a school could be a factor in establishing the final grade of individual students.

“This could have a negative impact on students in lower performing schools.

“Given the correlation between deprivation and lower performing schools the committee is concerned that this approach could have a disproportionate impact on the grades of students from deprived areas.”

In a further letter to the SQA in June the committee also warned that a large number of appeals would “cause a capacity issue” for teachers at a time when they would be undertaking “intensive preparations” for the re-opening of schools and that the extra work for the SQA could lead to a delay in appeals being processed.

Education secretary John Swinney is expected to make a statement on the exam results next week after the Scottish Parliament returns from summer recess on Tuesday.

Swinney has defended the SQA process and denied that the most deprived pupils were unfairly treated, saying that the data “does not bear this out”.

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