Sturgeon apologises after outcry over exam results downgraded by ‘deprivation algorithm’

First minister acknowledges misstep and vows to ‘put it right’

Credit: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire/PA Images

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to pupils who had their exam marks downgraded, saying that “despite our best intentions I do acknowledge that we did not get this right and I am sorry for that”.

She made the apology yesterday at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, ahead of a statement from in the Holyrood chamber today, in which education secretary John Swinney is expected to set out the Scottish Government’s response to growing criticism over exam results.

It comes after 133,000 grades provided by teachers were adjusted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority based on computer modelling systems that took into account the school’s past performance rather than evidence of the individual pupil’s ability. Pupils from poorer background were hardest hit, leading opposition parties to table a vote of no confidence in John Swinney.

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Ian Murray, the Westminster representative for Edinburgh South and Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Scotland, told Sky News that students had been “downgraded because of their postcodes” – including at one school in his constituency, where he said 76% of grades had been revised down.

“If you go to a school in a deprived area, there has been a deprivation algorithm applied to the schools so that those grades that teachers gave you on your coursework and all your pre-learns have been downgraded because, essentially, what the Scottish Government have been saying to poorer students is: ‘you should know your place, and you don’t deserve those higher grades’,” he said.

He claimed that, prior to the vote of no confidence, the Scottish Government had “doubled down on this deprivation algorithm”. 

But Sturgeon pledged on Monday to address the situation, and apologised to those affected.

“We didn’t get this right,” she said. “I want to say to young people, I am sorry for that. As I said when results came out last week, this is a big moment in your lives and I am sorry that some of you have had this anxiety this week, but we are going to put it right for you and that is the commitment I am giving today.”


Sam Trendall

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