Lothian Conservative MSP hits out at SNP over 'assessment' debacle

Sue Webber, Conservative and Union MSP for the Lothian region, has called on the SNP Government to urgently address the serious problems surrounding the appeals process for pupils.

Saturday, 5th June 2021, 4:00 am
Updated Saturday, 5th June 2021, 8:59 am

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Lothian MSP used her maiden Parliamentary speech to slam the SNP for the chaos surrounding pupil assessments following exams allegedly being cancelled for the second year in a row.

Webber wrote to SNP Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Sommerville to demand answers around the award process for this year, which is threatening to damage the future prospects of young people.

She said: “Last year's exams fiasco was bad enough but the SNP are threatening to make this year even worse through their lack of action.

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“The SQA is simply not fit for purpose and must be scrapped. They only recently highlighted information on a new service that was aimed at young people who have suffered severe disruption to their learning.

“That is way too late into the problems that have engulfed young people this year. They were told exams were cancelled, yet they are sitting them in all but name.

“Pupils have suffered major disruption as a result of the pandemic. Now they are under so much pressure that they can’t sleep and feel hopeless and worry their future prospects are at great risk before they’ve even received their awards.

“Those responsible should be ashamed.”

Susan Webber. Picture: Lisa Ferguson/JPIMedia

Speaking to parliament, Sommerville said on Wednesday afternoon that it was her priority to guarantee pupils are safe and able to receive fair and credible grades.

She reiterates that she is listening to and taking the concerns and anxiety of those in the school community seriously.

But she added: “I and key stakeholders across our system firmly believe (our approach) to be the fairest possible for our young people, in the challenging circumstances that result from the pandemic.

“The national qualifications 2021 group was established in October 2020, with representatives of teachers, learners and parents working alongside local authorities, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Government to ensure that the hard work of learners can be fairly acknowledged. The group agreed and co-produced the model for this year, using its members’ insight and expertise. Education partners continue to support the approach.

“Let me be clear about the assessment process itself. At the heart of the model are teachers’ and lecturers’ professional judgments, which are based on what learners have demonstrated that they have attained.

“Those judgments alone, based on learners’ work, will this year determine the grades that young people receive.”

She went on to say that grades will be based not on historical data or on use of an algorithm, but on what each individual learner has demonstrated that they know, understand and can do, through the work on which they have been assessed in school or college.

Appeal decisions will therefore be evidence based and symmetric, which means that grades can move down, move up or stay the same, depending on the review of the evidence.

Somerville added: “I recognise that some stakeholders are not supportive of that position and seek an approach in which grades cannot go down. Awards must ultimately be based on the actual attainment of pupils. In that way, the appeals system will be fair, consistent and credible.”