Scottish government reverses controversial downgrading of exam results

11 August 2020, 15:24

By Maddie Goodfellow

Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney has announced the 124,564 exam results downgraded by a controversial moderation process will revert to the grades estimated by pupils' teachers.

John Swinney made the announcement in a statement at the Scottish Parliament.

As a result of the pandemic, exams were cancelled and a new grading system put in place, with teachers' estimates of pupils' attainment moderated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

This was based on criteria including the past performance of schools.

It resulted in about a quarter of all grades handed out by the SQA this year being downgraded.

The pass rate for higher pupils from the most deprived areas of Scotland was reduced by 15.2%, compared with 6.9% in the most affluent parts of the country.

As a result of the changes, the new Higher pass rate for 2020 is 89.2%, 14.4% higher than the previous year.

The National 5 pass rate has also increased by 10.7% to 88.9%, as well as the Advanced Higher pass rate rising to 93.1% - a rise of 13.7%.

There have been protests since the results were announced
There have been protests since the results were announced. Picture: PA

Mr Swinney said: "I can confirm to Parliament today that all downgraded awards will be withdrawn.

"Using powers available to me in the Education (Scotland) Act 1996, I am today directing the SQA to reissue those awards based solely on teacher or lecturer judgment.

"Schools will be able to confirm the estimates they provided for pupils to those that are returning to school this week and next."

The Education Secretary faced criticism from pupils, parents and teachers, with opposition politicians calling for him to resign.

Mr Swinney is set to face a vote of no confidence later this week, tabled by Scottish Labour and supported by the Conservatives, with the Lib Dems and Greens withholding judgment until after his statement on Tuesday.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard tweeted: "The no confidence motion in @JohnSwinney has forced a massive #SQAResultsFiasco U-turn. But Swinney has lost all credibility and isn't the one to fix this.

"At 5pm @ScotParl bureau will propose that motion is heard on Thursday. Blocking motion from debate would be anti-democratic."

MSP Ruth Davidson tweeted: "A total U-turn on the position Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney had doubled down on for days.

"Welcome relief for pupils who've been put through the wringer. But be in no doubt, this is a shambles & an honourable man would have offered his resignation."

Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray tweeted: "Well done to all the young people who wouldn't accept the embedding of inequality in the exam system. A hugely embarrassing but very welcome u-turn from the Scottish govt that wouldn't have happened without the public outcry.

"And all those that defended the SNP position will no doubt be the ones who are strongest advocates of the new position. All those elected SNP members who have been silent for the last week can come out from behind the sofa."

His statement follows First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologising to pupils for the way results were handled this year.

The Education Secretary said: "We set out to ensure that the system was fair. We set out to ensure it was credible. But we did not get it right for all young people.

"Before I go any further, I want to apologise for that.

"In speaking directly to the young people affected by the downgrading of awards - the 75,000 pupils whose teacher estimates were higher than their final award - I want to say this: I am sorry."

John Swinney said "there was always a risk" that grades would be adjusted in a way that would not reflect the attainment of the pupil.

He added: "As a result of the SQA moderation process, 134,000 teacher estimates were adjusted, with just under 76,000 candidates having one or more of their grades lowered when compared to the teacher estimate.

"Despite the headline improvements in the pass rate at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, despite the fact that the pass rate amongst pupils in the most deprived areas increased at a sharper rate than those in the least deprived communities, and despite the fact there was progress in closing the attainment gap, the results left many young people feeling that their future had been determined by statistical modelling rather than their own capability and capacity.

"That has left a feeling of unfairness in the minds of young people."

John Swinney said he knew that the apology was not enough, and action would need to be taken to rectify the situation.

As a result, all downgraded marks will be restored and new certificates sent out.

He said: "Using powers available to me in the Education (Scotland) Act 1996, I am today directing the SQA to re-issue those awards based solely on teacher or lecturer judgment.

"Schools will be able to confirm the estimates they provided for pupils to those that are returning to school this week and next.

"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."

No grades which were moderated up, the Education Secretary said, will be reduced.

The Education Secretary added that provision would be made to allow for the necessary university and college places in Scotland so those whose grades have been changed will not be "crowded out".

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