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by Louise Wilson
02 June 2021
Student grades could move up or down under appeals process

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Student grades could move up or down under appeals process

Students will be able to appeal directly to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) for free for the first time under the alternative certification model put in place due to COVID disruptions.

But the process will mean grades can be revised down as well as up, despite calls from the Scotland’s children’s commissioner to remove the risk of being downgraded.

Exams were cancelled in Scotland for the second year in a row due to the pandemic.

Grades will instead be based on teacher judgement of attainment throughout the school year.

However, as schools were closed at the start of 2021, many school pupils had to sit multiple assessments throughout April to meet the SQA’s “demonstrated attainment” criteria.

This has led to more focus being placed on the appeals process, which was promised by the SQA by early May. The process has only today been published.

Making the announcement in the Chamber, new education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed there would be a direct right of appeal for learners.

She said: “It is right in these exceptional times that there is a broad mechanism to appeal for those who consider they have not received right result and this is free at point of use.”

The grounds for appeal include disagreement with a centre’s academic judgement, administrative or procedural errors, or appeals relating to the Equalities Act, including assessment arrangements.

While the formal appeals process will not begin until 10 August when grades are released, pupils will be able to signal their intention to appeal based on provisional grades due to be submitted at the end of this month.

The education secretary also said the process would be “evidence-based and symmetric” which means any appeal grades could be moved up, down or stay the same.

She added: “I recognise that some stakeholders are not supportive of this decision and were seeking an approach where grades cannot go down.

“While I am really sympathetic to the position of learners this year, awards must ultimately be based on the actual attainment of pupils. That means that the subject specialists looking at an appeal must be able to give their true judgement on a pupil’s attainment, moving the grade in line with evidence.

“In this way, the appeals system will be fair, consistent and credible.”

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland had previously called for a “no detriment” appeals process.

In response to the SQA consultation, the commissioner’s office warned the risk of downgrading could be a barrier to appeal.

It said: “The threat of being downgraded risks increasing anxiety and stress, with the resulting impact on young people’s mental health. The impact of the threat of potential downgrade on young people’s realisation of their rights is disproportionate to any perceived ‘unfairness’ where an appeal identifies an error which would otherwise reduce the grade.”

Tory education spokesman Oliver Mundell criticised the lack of clarity from the SQA around the entire assessment process, leading to huge differences between how schools have approached it.

He said: “The failure to learn lessons is unforgivable. For us to be in a worse position than this time last year is a betrayal of our young people.”

Labour’s education spokesman Michael Marra also criticised the SQA, saying the body had “missed its own deadlines time and again.”

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