Calls for government apology to young people as results day looms

Politicians have called on the Scottish Government to issue an apology to young people receiving exam results next week for the “entirely avoidable” stress they have been put through.
A pupil at Stonlelaw High School in Rutherglen, Glasgow, receives a text message with her exam grades on her mobile phone last year.A pupil at Stonlelaw High School in Rutherglen, Glasgow, receives a text message with her exam grades on her mobile phone last year.
A pupil at Stonlelaw High School in Rutherglen, Glasgow, receives a text message with her exam grades on her mobile phone last year.

Pupils taking Higher and National 5 courses this year sat an “alternative assessment” model of exams – administered by individual schools instead of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). They will receive their formal results on Tuesday, however this year, teachers were able to tell them their grades before the end of the summer term, allowing for an appeals process.

Teachers are feeling “trepidation and relief” ahead of results day next week, the EIS union claimed, adding that staff had suffered a “great deal of anxiety” over the alternative assessment model.

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However, further upheaval is likely in the coming months as the government prepares to scrap the SQA and overhaul the Scottish exams system.

The SQA has reassured pupils and teachers that this year will not see a repeat of last year’s debacle, when issued grades were changed following an algorithm which took into account past school performance.

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Ross Greer MSP, Scottish Greens education spokesperson, said: “The Scottish Government and SQA should start this year’s results day with an apology to Scotland’s young people for the entirely avoidable levels of stress and anxiety they were put through. The onslaught of de-facto exams after Easter wasn’t a necessary requirement, it was the result of a near-total failure to plan for the effects of Covid disruption earlier in the school year.

“The decision to cancel exams was taken far too late, the alternative grading system was based on evidence that didn’t yet exist and the only way to produce it on time was through tests which in every meaningful way mirrored the exams they had cancelled.” On top of all of this, pupils and teachers have no ability to appeal a grade on compassionate grounds or other exceptional circumstances. It is scandalous that the SQA has refused to take this into account despite hearing the stories of young people having to undertake these de-facto exams just days after losing a family member or when they themselves had been seriously ill.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP said: "I am hoping that every pupil gets the results that they deserve but I worry that this will not be the case. The fact that the head of the SQA didn't see fit to apologise for last year's results shambles suggests that few lessons have been learned.

"Pupils were forced into exams in all but name, sitting as many as 40 assessments in eight weeks, crammed in with little notice. The SQA shifted workloads onto teachers and gave them precious little leeway to recognise that some of their students had missed months of education due to repeated stints in isolation or disruption at home.”

She added: "The Scottish Government should be hard at work ensuring that extra support is available for those who have missed out from the lack of in-person teaching. Instead they are plotting how they will spin themselves out of another exams debacle."

Scottish Conservative Shadow Education Secretary Oliver Mundell said: “Last year’s exams fiasco saw the SNP gravely threaten the future prospects of so many youngsters and it’s clear they have learned no lessons from their previous mistakes this time around.

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“Swinney might be out but the same flawed system still exists which fails to support pupils, parents and teachers. There is a lack of consistency across Scotland which adds to the sense of unfairness."

He added: “These underlying problems with the Scottish education system must be addressed by the SNP before more pupils are badly let down.”

David Belsey, assistant secretary of the EIS, said: “There has been a great deal of anxiety about the new alternative certification model during the year, and the fact that we had a few months of school closure and then a period of erratic pupil/staff self-isolations which led to less teaching time. Introducing a new certification model with different assessment procedures and different evidence requirements is stressful at the best of times, and whilst these changes were necessary, they have been done at a challenging period.”

He added: “There is always a degree of trepidation from teachers on results day – although this year is different to others insofar as the results are teacher produced and are known to the pupils in advance. Whilst there may be less uncertainty, these results are of vital importance to young people.

“I think teachers would like to see a return to normality; both in terms of not having to deal with teaching during a pandemic with its lockdowns and unforeseeable absences but also not having to deliver a different certification model for national qualifications every year.”

Margaret Wilson, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said: “Most students know their grades, but it will be nice to have that piece of paper in their hands. Most parents seems very relaxed about it this year, it’s more of a time for celebration, whatever their achievement as they have shown great resilience and flexibility in a very difficult year. We obviously wish all of our young people all the best.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Plans for national qualifications 2022 will be announced soon.”

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