Dismay as thousands of pupils have exam grades lowered

By Bill Heaney

Pupils have been praised by the government after finding out their results this morning, with overall pass rates rising — despite almost 125,000 grades being lowered by the exams body.

However, there is likely to be a huge political row about this given the exams were cancelled for the first time in history due to the coronavirus.

The results were worked out using estimates made by teachers based on each pupil’s performance over the school year.

However, a national moderation system meant that many pupils received lower grades than originally estimated.

It is also being speculated with good reason that pupils from schools in poor and deprived areas have been discriminated against.

Education Secretary John Swinney delivered the news with his usual calm approach to even more serious matters.

But opposition politicians have warned that there will now be a “deluge” of appeals”, and accused the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) of treating the professional judgement of teachers with “contempt” by changing so many grades.

Scottish Labour has accused the SQA of treating the judgement of teachers with “contempt” by lowering the grades of so many pupils – which can damage their prospects for university or college.

The party’s education spokesman, Iain Gray, said: “Worst of all, the SQA have done this on the basis of each school’s past performance, marking the school not the pupil, and baking in the attainment gap.

“They were told that this would be grossly unfair and it is.

“The SQA will now be deluged with appeals. I hope they are ready to deal with them properly.”

The LibDems were straight in there too with the tawse, particularly for the SQA.

Their education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said: “”While some pupils will be rightly celebrating, many more will be deeply disappointed with how the SQA have handled things.

“We are already seeing pupils, teachers and in some cases, entire classes, complaining that their grades have been dropped dramatically, in many cases turning passes into fails.

“In particular the decision by the SQA to hold back their moderation guidelines until results’ day itself has meant months have been lost in which these guidelines could be scrutinised, understood and if necessary, improved.

“These are difficult times for any organisation but the SQA’s communication with parents, pupils and teachers has been a trainwreck that could have been easily avoided. 

“What’s more, the reliance on a school’s past performance as a guide to moderating results will embed the attainment gap and hurt bright pupils from disadvantaged schools. It appears that the system has been reverse-engineered to get the “right results”.

Re-opening of schools in West Dunbartonshire and Early Learning Centres in August

Following the First Minister’s announcement 30/07/2020),  we are now planning and preparing for all pupils to return to school from Wednesday 12 August for the new term.

Head teachers will write to parents/carers directly on Tuesday, 4 August  to confirm what day your child/children will start school.

The return to full time education for all of our children and young people is dependent on Covid-19 remaining under control. The Council is being guided by and will stringently follow the scientific evidence and advice from the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland.

“Everyone will now be hoping that the appeals process is sufficiently robust to handle the volume of pupils who will now wish to challenge their results.”

The SQA hit back stating that its moderation process had ensured “fairness to all learners” and maintained “standards and credibility” in the qualification system

About 138,000 students have been getting their results, with those who signed up for text or email alerts receiving their grades from 08:00 onwards, while certificates are arriving in the post during the day.

The pass rate for National 5 was 81.1%, while the Higher pass rate was 78.9% and the Advanced Higher rate was 84.9%.

In 2019, the National 5 pass rate was 78.2%, the Higher pass rate was 74.8% and the Advanced Higher rate was 79.4%.

A total of 133,000 individual results were adjusted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) from the initial estimates of grades that were submitted by teachers – a quarter of the total.

Of these, 6.9% of the estimates were adjusted up, while 93.1% were adjusted down. Almost all (96%) were adjusted by a single grade.

If the results had purely been based on the estimates from teachers, pass rates at grades A-C would have increased by 10.4 percentage points for National 5, by 14 percentage points for Higher and by 13.4 percentage points for Advanced Higher.

SQA figures also showed that the Higher pass rate for pupils from the most deprived backgrounds was reduced by 15.2 percentage points, compared to only 6.9 percentage points for the wealthiest pupils.

But the exams body insisted that the most deprived pupils had not suffered compared to previous years – and the Scottish government said the attainment gap has narrowed this year.

Exam results

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was unapologetic for the way things had gone so badly wrong for so many pupils.

But she said pupils deserved “enormous credit” for the way they had coped after exams were cancelled across the UK as schools closed and the country went into lockdown in March.

She added: “At a moment’s notice you had to adapt to new forms of learning, your contact with friends and family was restricted, many of you missed out on a proper end to your final year, you didn’t get to sit exams.

“Of course, you’re now having to think about your future in a time of real economic uncertainty.

“All of that has been really tough and we don’t underestimate how tough that has been, and I know that for some of you there will be difficult decisions that lie ahead.”

Education Secretary John Swinney said the estimated results would have led to a higher annual change than had ever been seen before in Scottish exam results.

He added: “I know teachers and lecturers will always want the best for their pupils but I believe that teachers have acted professionally.”

“All of that has been really tough and we don’t underestimate how tough that has been, and I know that for some of you there will be difficult decisions that lie ahead.”

In West Dunbartonshire, Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration, would not not discuss the exam results with The Dumbarton Democrat.

In Argyll and Bute, which includes Helensburgh’s Hermiktage Academy, Oban High and Dunnon Grammar, young people and their families were said to be “celebrating exam success”.

The results follow months of disruption for schools, pupils and their families which saw home learning developed and a new national assessment process introduced, as part of Scotland’s response to the threat of COVID-19.

Early indications are that overall Argyll and Bute’s young people have overcome this disruption and secured qualifications that mean they move onto positive destinations, according to Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly.

She said: “We all want success for our young people. Achieving it has never been more challenging than this year. Sheer hard work, and partnership between our schools and their families are what made it possible.

“Our pupils had to deal with the pressures of leaving their familiar school routines and adjusting to new ways of learning.

“Our teachers worked tirelessly to deliver digital and home-learning options. Our focus on using digital technology put our schools in a good position to develop longer term digital teaching, but even so, the speed and scale of change were demanding.

“And our parents had to take on the task of supporting their children with home learning, often while juggling the stresses and strains of work and other family demands.

“It’s been a stressful, difficult time to say the least. The ‘let’s get it done’ response I’ve seen in action is a real credit to Argyll and Bute. Our pupils, teachers and their families should all be very proud of themselves.

Wholehearted congratulations to all our young people who achieved the qualifications they hoped for. For anyone disappointed, please do get in touch, you’re not on your own, our schools are here to help you.

“If any of our young people or their families would like to discuss their results, we encourage them to contact their school as soon after receiving their results as possible so that we can provide any support required.”

This year was the first time since 1888 that exams were cancelled in Scottish schools.

The SQA’s candidate advice line will run from 0800 to 1800 on Tuesday, and from 0830 to 1700 on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The number is 0345 279 1000.

Leave a Reply