Scottish Government backtracks on exam grading

Written by Gemma Fraser and Jenni Davidson on 14 August 2020 in News
News

Pupils grades will be decided on teacher’s judgement after widespread criticism of impact of ‘deprivation algorithm’

Credit: PA

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, Scottish Government education Secretary John Swinney has announced.

Around 134,000 teacher estimates were adjusted by based on computer modelling conducted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Almost 76,000 pupils had one or more results lowered and 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.

This prompted widespread criticism and protests over what some characterised as a “deprivation algorithm”.

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


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

“These are exceptional times, and in exceptional times truly difficult decisions are made,” he said. “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 To resolve this issue all downgraded awards will be withdrawn.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.”

Affected pupils will be issued with new certificates as soon as possible, Swinney added, and university admissions body UCAS will also be notified of the updated grades. 

Professor Mark Priestly, of Stirling University will conduct an independent review of the events and will report back with initial recommendations within five weeks.

SQA is yet to apologise for the affair, although chief executive Fiona Robertson told the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee that she regretted “the circumstances of the last week” and that criticism had been “felt most keenly” by her and her colleagues.

Responding to comments from Scottish Conservative committee member Jamie Greene that he had not heard the word ‘sorry’ in what she had told the committee, Robertson said it had been “very difficult” to see the reaction to the results, but the SQA had a role to fulfil.

“We were asked to fulfil a role and part of that role was to maintain standards across Scotland,” she added. “And while I absolutely fully understand the feelings of young people and the strength of those feelings, it was important… that I explain the basis on which we undertook that work. It was a commission from ministers after exams had been cancelled and in an extraordinary set of circumstances that I think we would all acknowledge, and I think we did our very best to deliver.

“But I also fully appreciate... that young people felt that their achievements had been taken outwith their control, so I absolutely get that, and of course I regret how young people have felt about the process.”

 

About the author

Gemma Fraser and Jenni Davidson are journalists at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where versions of this story first appeared. They tweet as @GemmaFraser10 and @HolyroodJenni.

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