Swinney faces no confidence motion from Labour and Tories despite evidence being based on 'meaningless date'

Education Secretary John Swinney is facing calls for his resignation and a potential no confidence motion next week.Education Secretary John Swinney is facing calls for his resignation and a potential no confidence motion next week.
Education Secretary John Swinney is facing calls for his resignation and a potential no confidence motion next week.
However, the Scottish Conservatives have said they will back a no confidence motion in the education secretary next week.

The education secretary and deputy first minister faces a potential no confidence motion following days of controversy around the exam results announced on Tuesday.

Both Labour and the Conservatives will back a no confidence motion next week when the Scottish Parliament returns.

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However, Labour calls for John Swinney’s resignation were embarrassed as the SQA confirmed the ‘nine month wait’ for appealed exam results was incorrect.

Scottish Labour said it planned to table a motion of no confidence in the deputy first minister following a suggestion that non-priority pupils could have to wait until May 31, 2021 to find out the result of any appeals.

The Scottish Conservatives have said they will back such a motion following confidence in Swinney hitting “rock bottom”.

The party released what it claimed was a photo of the SQA’s intranet that suggested a potential nine-month wait for pupils who had appealed that were not awaiting college or university places.

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According to Scottish Labour, the May 31, 2021 date for appeal outcomes to be released was shortly removed from the exam board’s internal website.

However, the suggestion of such a long wait was rejected out of hand by the SQA, who labelled the date “part of a technical requirement” to allow the system to go live.

The SQA confirmed priority appeals will be released by September 4, with a date for other appeals to come after appeal submissions close.

An SQA spokesman said: “There is no nine month wait for grades. This was a meaningless date set as part of a technical requirement to allow the system to go live.

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“The results of the priority appeals will be emailed to schools and colleges for learners by 4th September.

“We are committed to processing all appeals as quickly as possible. We will provide a date for all other reviews shortly after 21st August.”

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, called on Swinney to resign prior to the SQA’s comment.

He said: "Since the shambles of the SQA results emerged on Tuesday, the SQA and SNP ministers have deflected criticism through arguing that students could appeal unfair grades.

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"This astonishing leak blows the lid off their defence. The SQA created this mess and the SNP government has entrusted them to sort it out - but all we have seen is shambles upon shambles upon shambles.

"To throw young people's life chances into doubt is a disgrace, but to then make them wait over nine months for justice is a total insult. It is simply astonishing that the SQA and the deputy first minister thought they could get away with this. The removal of the timeline simply points to the chaos at the heart of the SQA.

“It is only two days since John Swinney told pupils who had been downgraded that the answer was the appeals process. Now we can see that’s going to be another kick in the teeth for these young people. We cannot have confidence in John Swinney and the SQA to run a credible appeals system. The only way out of this mess now is for Scottish Government to return to trusting teachers' judgements.

“It is now clear that John Swinney has completely lost control of the SQA and the exam process, and he needs to go. We will seek to lay a motion to that effect and approach colleagues across parliament for their support."

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Scottish Conservative education spokesperson Jamie Greene said his party would back Labour in a no confidence motion next week, and said “the public no longer trusts him”

He said: “The Scottish Conservatives will support a motion of no confidence against the education secretary.

“Public confidence in Mr Swinney’s ability to handle his brief, particularly his response to the current SQA fiasco, has hit rock bottom.

“Reports of the SQA appeals process potentially being extended to May 2021 will be gut-wrenching to young people waiting on a training or university place.

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“Scotland’s pupils, parents and teachers need an education secretary who inspires their confidence. Mr Swinney used to be the SNP’s resident safe pair of hands – the public no longer trusts him.”

The Scottish Government has faced widespread criticism over the grading system that replaced exams, which were cancelled in Scotland for the first time ever due to coronavirus.

The system, produced by the SQA and approved by the Government, saw 26.2% of grades changed during the moderation process based on criteria that included schools’ historic performances – with a total of 124,564 pupils’ results downgraded.

Hundreds of pupils took to Glasgow’s George Square on Friday morning to protest this year’s system of awarding exam results – the methodology of which was only revealed on results day.

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The First Minister said the controversial process was “effectively statistical moderation” and argued results would not have been “credible” if the pass rate of the most-deprived pupils had risen by the 19.8% estimated by teachers before moderation.

Both Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Swinney have defended the system, stressing that the appeals process would allow eligible pupils to challenge their results if they were downgraded from teachers’ estimates.

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