Campaigners hit out at 'alarming' John Swinney claims around exam appeal system

Campaigners who are arguing the exam results appeal process for this year was “not fit for purpose” have hit out at John Swinney on the morning of his delayed announcement about the 2021 exam diet.

John Swinney has been criticised for his handling of the 2020 exam results fiasco

The education secretary is set to make a statement to the Scottish Parliament today outlining the main lessons learned in 2020 and the way forward for exams next year, alongside contingency plans if schools close.

Also due to be published is the report authored by Professor Mark Priestley, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government to examine what went wrong with the 2020 exam results fiasco and subsequent U-turn.

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However, for a number of pupils unable to appeal their teacher provided estimates for their grades this year, which were awarded by the SQA due to disagreements with the school’s own grade predictions, the experience of 2020 lingers on.

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In response to letters from students raising concerns about the lack of a direct appeal system for those who disagree with their school’s predictions, one of Mr Swinney’s officials said those with issues with their school failing to agree to appeal should contact the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

The letter, written to parents and pupils, states that Mr Swinney acknowledges the “testing circumstances” and the Scottish Government has “not got everything right” and it would learn from the experience, but did not provide a new route of appeal for pupils.

Dr Tracy Kirk, a children’s rights expert working with the youth-led SQA Where’s Our Say campaign, has said the response was “frankly alarming”. She said she was surprised at the Scottish Government’s “sustained refusal” to alter their stance.

Dr Kirk said: “It is frankly alarming that the deputy first minister's office states that 2020 is an unprecedented year which required teachers to take an account of personal circumstances of students to ensure fair certification while simultaneously failing to realise that an appeals process 'similar to that of previous years' is not what was required.

“It is clear that the right to appeal was not fit for purpose and the deputy first minister's office seems to have forgotten and disregarded those adversely impacted by the 2020 alternative grading process.

“Learning from the experience is not enough when you are talking about the individual lives of children and young people. I hope Mr Swinney reflects on this letter with a particular focus on the child centred approach he holds in such high regard.

"Put bluntly, the 2020 alternative grading process did not ensure personal circumstances were taking into account.

"Teachers were put in a difficult situation. Conducting a children's rights impact assessment back in April would have foreseen these blatant breaches of children's rights and allowed for mitigations to be put in place.

"There is still time for Mr Swinney to widen the appeals process. Otherwise, surely the message is that we want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up, just not if you were due to sit exams in 2020?”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Professor Mark Priestley was commissioned to carry out an independent review of the events following the cancellation of the 2020 exam diet and we will be publishing our response to his recommendations shortly.”

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