Pressure mounts on John Swinney to resign over exam result reductions tied to poverty and deprivation

By Bill Heaney

Pressure is mounting on Education Secretary John Swinney to make the Scottish Qualifications Authority scrap the marking down system used in this year’s exam results and replace them with the marks allocated to them by their teachers.

Scottish Labour is behind the move to return the grades of all pupils to their teachers’ predictions, which are an average of 15 per cent higher than they received from the SQA, an unelected quango, in the final analysis.

The 15 per cent cut, which has led to pupils’ anger and dismay that they will not be able to obtain university and college courses or follow other career paths they had in mind when they received their prelim marks, was imposed on students from poor and deprived areas.

The Children’s and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS) wants the Scottish government to apologise.

FM Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Swinney have been slaughtered in the media for having allowed this to happen on their watch and are desperately with their special advisers putting together a form of words for a speech tomorrow to placate the nation.

Mr Swinney has been handed the hospital pass for this by FM Sturgeon in a manner the country has become accustomed to whenever serious political errors are made by the government.

The mild-mannered deputy leader has been chosen in “Give Us Barabas” fashion to make a statement at Holyrood tomorrow after admitting he had “heard the anger of students” over downgraded qualifications.

He faces a no-confidence vote tabled by Labour. The Conservatives say they will support it and the Scottish Greens’s co-leader, Dumbarton man Patrick Harvie, has clearly indicated that his party will also back the motion.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme that the “simplest and fairest” way would be to return grades to what teachers originally projected. “Anything else will fall short” he added.

The veteran MSP said Mr Swinney had only acted because he was facing a vote of no confidence in Holyrood so still had to go.

SNP MSP Alex Neil, who is a former Labour MP, said: “We have to resolve this and resolve it quickly.

“A very sensible suggestion would be not to have any of those downgrades and have what was recommended by the teachers, the teachers know the pupils best.

“Nobody downgraded below what they got in their prelims would be fair.”

Mr Neil said the “SQA has a lot to answer for” but added that Mr Swinney should not resign.

The CYPCS has called on the Scottish government to apologise and to change the methodology for calculating grades.

With no exams sat this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the SQA applied a methodology that saw grades estimated by teachers downgraded.

Pupils and parents took part in demonstrations after the results were announced.

Pass rates for pupils in the most deprived data zones were reduced by 15.2% in comparison with 6.9% for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds.

The Children’s Commissioner’s office said children from more deprived areas had been downgraded based on the historic performance of their school rather than their individual performance.

In a letter to the SQA and the Scottish government, the CYPCS laid out a series of steps to make the appeal process for pupils fairer.

It includes allowing young people to disagree with the grade estimated by their school, and grades being awarded based solely on the evidence presented and not “statistical modelling or moderation”.

‘Anxiety and stress’

“If this results in significantly higher pass marks compared to previous years, no further adjustment will be made to grades to seek to bring them into line with those historic statistics,” the CYPCS argues.

Nick Hobbs, CYPCS head of advice and investigations, criticised the SQA’s “refusal to discuss its proposed methodology in advance” and said young people were now “experiencing significant anxiety and distress”.

He added: “This situation has placed process before people, and in endeavouring to protect the system has delivered results to individual students that are simply unfair.

“It appears that too many young people have not received the results they deserve and they are due an apology as well as redress.

“The unfairness of this approach is obvious and it should make the government scrutinise in much more detail the way in which we assess young people’s performance and potential.”

Mr Swinney said on Sunday that he had “heard the anger of students who feel their hard work has been taken away” and said he was “determined to address it”.

“These are unprecedented times and as we have said throughout this pandemic, we will not get everything right first time,” he said.

“Every student deserves a grade that reflects the work they have done, and that is what I want to achieve.

“I have been engaged in detailed discussions over the way forward and I know that we need to act and act quickly to give certainty to our young people.”

Schools in West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute are to resume this week for the first time since March

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