Cash-strapped schools face paying out for exam appeals

At least 6000 city pupils will be affected by the policy. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
At least 6000 city pupils will be affected by the policy. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
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Schools across Edinburgh face paying for exam appeals under a new system that is intended to reduce the number of speculative appeals.

The new system, introduced by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), is designed to prevent schools submitting too many requests when pupils fail to achieve their predicted grade.

Under the revamped regime, schools will be charged for an appeal if there is no change of grade once checks are carried out.

The new costs will range from £10 for a “clerical check” to £39.75 for a “priority marking review”.

As youngsters cram for exams beginning later this month, city education chiefs have admitted headteachers will shoulder the financial burden of a new nationwide system.

However, critics today warned this could deprive pupils in poorer areas of the chance to challenge disappointing grades.

National data suggests at least 6000 Edinburgh pupils will be affected by the process, which has been introduced by the SQA as part of an overhaul of the entire exam system.

The reform comes after SQA bosses last year paid £800,000 to process 67,000 appeals – seven per cent of all exam entries – with between a third and 50 per cent of Edinburgh-based appeals successful.

Teachers and their representatives say charging cash-strapped schools will create a “serious disincentive” when considering appeals, adding that youngsters in the poorest neighbourhoods are likely be hit hardest.

And they have warned the “unfairness” may be increased by parents willing to pay to ensure SQA appeals are filed for their children.

One city teacher, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s bound to disadvantage pupils. Schools are going to look carefully at who they appeal for – in future there will be fewer people presented.

“I think this will disadvantage schools such as Castlebrae and Wester Hailes Education Centre. The Boroughmuirs of the world will be appealing more confidently.”

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary heads and other senior teachers, said: “We would expect the authority to keep a watchful eye so that a youngster is not disadvantaged. We don’t want one school to be benefiting over another because of the way it’s financially supported.

“If there are issues, I would want to look at how we get fairness back into the system – it may mean the authority making extra resources available.”

But other senior teachers are relaxed about the new regime.

Derek Curran, headteacher at Castlebrae High and previously leader at Forrester High, said: “Where it might be more of an issue is at bigger schools – the likes of Royal High, Craigmount and Boroughmuir – which tend to be in more homogeneous, middle-class areas.

“Consequently, there is much more likely to be parental pressure for kids who fail, but it’s a borderline fail and parents say, ‘I want an appeal’. No school will deprive a pupil of an appeal. I don’t think this will be a big issue and I think it has been over-egged.”

City education chiefs have vowed to ensure all cases which warrant re-marking are taken forward. A spokeswoman said: “Schools meet these costs through their devolved SQA budgets. However, costs associated with re-marking will be monitored by education officers.”