Local student’s exam downgrade raised in parliament

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The case of a school student from the Western Isles, who was among thousands of pupils and students to receive worse than expected grades from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, has been raised in the Scottish Parliament today.

Donald Cameron MSP, for the Highlands and Islands, questioned Education Secretary John Swinney about the case involving Eva Peteranna, a student at Sgoil Lionacleit on  the Isle of Benbecula.

She was predicted by teachers to achieve AAABC in her Highers, but was awarded BBBDF by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which was using a new system after the coronavirus struck.

With many exams halted this year, teachers and lecturers graded pupils in key subjects which then went to be ‘moderated’ by SQA examination boards.

A total of 134,000 teacher estimates were ‘adjusted’ by the SQA but it meant around 75,000 candidates having one or more of their grades lowered.

Mr Swinney announced today that the downgraded awards would be withdrawn and replaced by the teacher estimates. Those who achieved higher grades would keep them, he told parliament in an apology.

Mr Swinney said: ‘In speaking directly to the young people affected by the downgrading of awards – the 75,000 pupils whose teacher estimates were higher than their final award – I want to say this – I am sorry.

‘I have listened and the message is clear. They don’t just want an apology, they want to see this fixed and that is exactly what I will now do.

‘To resolve this issue all downgraded awards will be withdrawn. I am directing the SQA to re-issue those awards based solely on teacher or lecturer judgement.’

He added: ‘Despite the headline improvements in the pass rate at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher, despite the fact that the pass rate amongst pupils in the most deprived areas increased at a sharper rate than those in the least deprived communities, and despite the fact there was progress in closing the attainment gap, the results left many young people feeling that their future had been determined by statistical modelling rather than their own capability and capacity.

‘That has left a feeling of unfairness in the minds of young people.’

Mr Cameron told parliament that young people in island communities already faced ‘significant barriers’ in education.

He said: ‘Eva’s situation reminds us of the tremendous and unnecessary upset that this shambles has caused for so many of our young people.

‘While I am pleased that, at long last, Eva and many others, should receive an acceptable result, this fiasco has raised very serious doubts about the competence and judgment of ministers, particularly John Swinney.’

Fiona Robertson, SQA Chief Executive and Scotland’s Chief Examining Officer, said: ‘Everyone at SQA fully acknowledges the strength of feeling about last week’s results among individual learners, their parents and carers – and among wider colleagues in the education system.

‘As the Deputy First Minister has outlined in Parliament today, through a ministerial direction SQA will change the previous approach to certification this year and instead award candidate results based solely on the estimates provided by schools and colleges. The results of those learners who were awarded a higher grade during the process will also be maintained.’