School pupils protest over SQA exam results

Education Secretary John Swinney has denied that pupils from deprived areas were disadvantaged by the results.

BBC Scotland is reporting that about 100 school pupils have turned out to a demonstration in Glasgow over their exam results.

They gathered at George Square to protest about how the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) calculated this year’s grades.

Pupils have also planned to protest outside the country’s exam body headquarters in Dalkeith later today.

The protests come after thousands of students received worse results than they were expecting on Tuesday.

All exams were cancelled this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Prelim exams and teacher estimates were used to grade pupils but the SQA moderated some results.

Image captionPosters at the Glasgow demonstration criticised how the SQA calculated pupil’s final results

The SQA lowered about 125,000 estimated grades – and many students believe they were penalised during the moderation process because their schools have historically not performed as well as others.

The pass rate of pupils in the most deprived data zones was reduced by 15.2% from teacher estimates after the exam board’s moderation.

In contrast, the pass rate for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds dropped by 6.9%.

‘We will not take this’

Erin Bleakley, 17, from Carntyne, organised the Glasgow protest after she saw her maths grade go from an A in her prelim to a D from the SQA on the final results.

She said she hoped the protest would highlight how pupils living in areas of high deprivation were disproportionately impacted by marks being downgraded.

Erin Bleakley organised and led the protest after she received lower grades than expected.

Erin told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “When my exams came in the other day, I was really, really disappointed to see the results I got in my prelims had no way came over into my exams.

“I just hope that we are heard and that our voices our heard today. We will not stand back and take this. We are not determined by our postcodes”.

‘We are coming together’

More than 35,000 people have signed an online petition to re-evaluate the exam results, not based on what the petition called “a classist marking scheme”.

Sarah McLaughlan, 18, from Edinburgh, was behind the petition and has organised a second demonstration outside the SQA headquarters in Dalkeith.

She told BBC Good Morning Scotland she believed that pupils should be treated as individuals.

Image captionMany students believe that teachers should have had the final say on results rather than the exam body

“Putting a group of students together as a collective based on their school and where it is situated is just morally wrong, I think,” Sarah said.

“The protests show we are coming together. We are willing to go out in public and actually voice our concerns.

“The more we do this, the more seriously we will be taken I’m hoping.”

What do the SQA and Scottish government say?

Scotland’s education secretary has rejected claims that bright pupils from deprived areas were unfairly penalised by the country’s exam system.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Swinney said it was always accepted that there would be “questions” about the grading system that was introduced when exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters wore masks amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

But he said the pass rate for pupils in the most deprived areas was higher this year than it was last year, while the attainment gap between the wealthiest and poorest pupils had narrowed.

The SQA said the most disadvantaged pupils had achieved better results this year than in 2019, with the number of passes also above the average for the past four years.

A spokesman added: “At Grades A to C, the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged young people is also narrower this year for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher than for last year or the average gap for the last four years.”

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