Exam body braced for record appeals as Scots pupils receive their results

No exams took place this yearNo exams took place this year
No exams took place this year
A record number of grade appeals are expected from schools this year, as pupils today receive their “adjusted” grades from the Scottish Qualifications Authority after high school examinations were cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Opposition parties have called on the exams body to release the methodology it has used to award qualifications, after it was accused of being “secretive” about the process and concerns were raised about it being too focused on ensuring “consistency” across national averages.

Pupils’ grades will be based on prelim exam passes, coursework assessment and teachers’ judgement - with the SQA allowing itself the ability to change the grade awarded by a teacher.

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Leading education policy expert, Professor Lindsay Paterson, of Edinburgh University said that people felt “uneasy” about the process and the way the SQA had acted since it was announced in March by Education Secretary John Swinney that the exams were cancelled.

Professor Paterson said: “It’s been a very stressful and unusual year for students and there will likely be more appeals, mainly because they’re free, so schools will not have a charge. Teachers estimated the grades back in May and the SQA adjusted the grades, and so if the child gets a lower grade than that which the teacher estimated, then the school can appeal.

“The SQA promised in April that if there was a dispute over the grade, it would discuss with teachers and schools what a compromise would be, but the SQA abandoned that in June after everyone went on holiday and people feel uneasy about this anonymous process.

“The only reason they gave was that it was too complicated, which is not a reassuring thing for students, teachers of the MSPs who were trying to hold the SQA to account back in April.”

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He added: “The SQA has been extremely lacking in transparency, hasn’t explained what methods it will use to adjust teachers’ estimates, or how many adjustments have been made and rumour would suggest there will be a lot of appeals because a lot of the adjustments will be downwards.

“I really do fear that lots of students will be treated unfairly - that the people who work hard at the end of the process will not get the grades they deserve which is very unfair as the schools were closed when they would have been doing that work. These students’ opportunities have been permanently lost.”

The teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, has also raised its concerns that the SQA has not been transparent around its moderation process. It has warned that if teachers’ professional judgements are overturned by the SQA, and estimates are altered on “a significant scale” it could “undermine confidence in the results and generate additional workload for teachers in submitting appeals, as well as place significant stress on young people.”

Scottish Tory education spokesman, Jamie Greene MSP, called for the SQA to release full details of its grade adjustment methodology, and said the SQA needed to assure pupils, parents and teachers that the appeals process was “able to deal with potentially thousands of new cases in a timely manner, to minimise disruption to the many students hoping to go onto college and university in September.”

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He added: “This week, thousands of students receiving their results are potentially facing an uncertain future because of the impact of Covid and school closures on their final grades.

Schools reopening could be catalyst for Covid spike“Whilst we supported the decision in March to close schools and cancel exams, there are still many unanswered questions over the specific methodology the SQA is using to awards these grades and how national averages impact that process.

“The appeals process must be fair, transparent and equipped to deal with potentially thousands of cases in the coming days.”

The Scotsman understands the SQA will reveal how it has adjusted grades once the statistics are published today.

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However Scottish Labour revealed it had refused to disclose the disparity between appeals lodged by state and independent schools over exam results last year - though statistics the SQA did release showed that since 2014, the percentage of appeals at independent schools has been at least double - and often almost three times - the percentage of appeals at state schools.

Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “After refusing to disclose the methodology for moderation of results until after they are released this year, the SQA is now dodging scrutiny again by refusing to tell us the disparity between state and independent school appeals rates last year.

“Today’s results are widely predicted to lead to an enormous number of appeals - but the SQA’s continued shroud of secrecy will make it more difficult to accurately assess the SNP Government’s shambolic handling of education, as well as the impact of Covid-19.

“But we now have clear evidence to confirm what we have long expected - that appeal charges are exacerbating the attainment gap.”Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said the SQA had set up teachers “for a monumental and largely avoidable mountain of additional work, just as schools reopen.”

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He added: “Pupils will be contacting their teachers about lower than expected grades today and many simply won’t know what to say, because they won’t know themselves why the grade they submitted was lowered by the exams authority.

“If the SQA had just published its grading system when Parliament asked for it, teachers could have got their heads round it ahead of results coming out. Of course, if the SQA had also done what was recommended and actually spoke to teachers before lowering grades, many of these now inevitable appeals could have been avoided entirely.”

Education researcher for Glasgow University’s Policy Scotland unit, Barry Black, said it was “vastly disappointing and unacceptable” that it had taken until the day the results were out for “pupils to find out how their grades have been determined.”

He added: “It is wholly likely that the appeals service will be inundated this year - every downgraded mark has the potential to be appealed. The SQA must make sure that priority appeals for university and college places are dealt with swiftly and appeals are not at a disadvantage simply depending on the evidence schools’ had time to gather last year before lockdown.

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“The whole process of appeals must be more open and transparent than the process of determining grades.”

An SQA spokesman said the appeals service was free to all schools and colleges this year in the light of the unusual circumstances, if a students had a lower grade than estimated.

“They need to have permission from the candidate and sufficient evidence to support the initial estimate. Following an appeal, final grades can be increased, they can be lowered, or they can remain the same.

“The SQA’s appeals service opens on August 4. Priority will be given to those candidates wishing to confirm a college or university place. If learners have any questions about their results they should speak to their school, college or training provider first.”

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