By Bill Heaney
This year’s national qualifications awards in Scottish schools will be based on teacher judgment, and that teacher judgment will be evidenced by the attainment of pupils, not by past results or algorithms.
This was the very clear commitment given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to MSPs at Holyrood today.
She told them: “No learner’s grades will be marked down or up because of their school’s past performance.
“If any learner has demonstrated that, for example, they deserve an A grade, an A grade is what they will receive.
“There are quality assurance processes in place. We may come on to discuss them in more detail, but neither the Scottish Qualifications Authority nor Education Scotland is involved in those processes.
“Once provisional grades have been submitted to the SQA, they will not be changed because of any school’s past performance.”
Douglas Ross challenged her however and said the evidence paints a very different picture. He went through some of it.
Mr Ross maintained: “An Education Scotland report that was published last week says that three in four councils in Scotland are analysing results using historical attainment data. Some councils have published their own reports, and this is what they say.
“Inverclyde Council is holding “data analysis meetings” before submitting grades; the City of Edinburgh Council is making “adjustments” based on previous attainment data; and East Renfrewshire Council has a checklist to ensure that teachers compare this year’s grades to the past three years’ grades.
“All that is in direct contradiction to the promise that the First Minister gave in the chamber last week and reiterated just a few moments ago.
“Once again, young people will lose out based solely on where they go to school. This is the same shambles as last year.
“It is just more sleekit because, instead of the SQA marking pupils down at the end of the process, the system will force teachers and schools to do it first. How on earth can young people have confidence in the system when the First Minister’s words do not match reality?
The First Minister countered: “What Douglas Ross is trying to suggest happens is simply not the case, so let me take the chamber through the process.
“I have already set out that awards this year are based on teacher judgment. Teachers arrive at their judgments by looking at attainment—the work that pupils have done. There are no past results or algorithms that dictate what an individual learner’s grades will be.
“On the quality assurance that is in place—I think that everybody would expect some such process to be in place—the only way in which a school’s past performance is looked at is to identify, within its own local authority area, whether it has provisional grades overall that appear to be significantly out of step with past performance. However—this is the important part—if that happens, provisional grades are then checked again not by the SQA or Education Scotland but by the relevant teachers.
“The key part is this: if the teacher’s judgment is that they stand by the result that they gave, that result stands and is not changed.
“It is simply a checking procedure and it ends in the same place: the teacher’s judgment, based on the attainment of the pupil, determines the grade. Provisional grades are then submitted to the SQA, which is not involved in the process before that.
“When that happens, they will not be changed because of a school’s past performance. That is a world away from the situation last year, when algorithms and the past performance of schools automatically changed the performance and grade of some pupils. That is not happening.
“This is a system that is based on teacher judgment, evidenced by the work that pupils have done throughout the year.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has today pressed the First Minister over the growth in short-term teaching contracts, and how many of the 3,500 teaching and classroom assistant posts that the Scottish Government has committed to creating will be given permanent contracts.
Mr Rennie said: “The First Minister is happy to take the credit for new teachers and teaching posts, but she is nowhere to be seen when their terms and conditions turn out to be shoddy.
“This week, in an open letter, 2,000 temporary teachers said they were having to take extra jobs to put food on the table.
“One in ten teachers are on short term contracts – bobbing from one precarious job to the next for years
“We all know that if the money is temporary, the teachers will be temporary. If the Scottish Government makes the money permanent, the teachers will be permanent.
“It seems like the SNP is once again not treating these teachers with respect and decency. This is no way to treat those responsible for educating the next generation.”