John Swinney must ensure no child is abandoned by exams cancellation - Dr Tracy Kirk

On Tuesday, the Deputy First Minister announced the cancellation of the SQA exam diet for Higher and Advanced Higher. In doing so, he said it was unacceptable for ‘pupils’ futures’ to be ‘blighted through no fault of their own’.

Scotland's exam system in 2021 must not suffer from the same errors as 2020

While the cancellation of exams was long-expected, more needs to be done to ensure our young people and teachers are not failed in 2021.

The decision does not remove pressure from pupils and staff. The lack of detail in the alternative model creates more questions than answers, especially as the National 5 model was only released on Tuesday, including timelines starting in November 2020.

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Dr Tracy Kirk is a children's rights academic and law lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University

To ensure the best interests of our young people, the approach to SQA qualifications must be human rights compliant.

Without doing so, there is a real chance that many pupils will face a second year of being failed by the SQA and Scottish Government.

The u-turn in August helped many pupils who had been failed by an algorithm.

However, it did not help everyone. Indeed, the Priestley Review, published in October and commissioned by the Scottish Government, highlighted the disproportionate disadvantage faced by pupils with protected characteristics under the Equality Act as well as those who had exceptional circumstances.

This led to a range of pupils having their futures, in the words of Mr Swinney, ‘blighted through no fault of their own’.

However, a children’s rights impact assessment published by the SQA in October states their belief that no pupils were disproportionately disadvantaged by SQA processes in 2020 or 2021.

This is despite the Priestley review making their disadvantage clear. These young people have been cast aside.

The very limited appeals process the Priestley review stated was ‘both unnecessary and counter-productive’ has compounded the failures faced by these pupils. However, still the Scottish Government and SQA have taken no action taken to ensure that these young people have the futures they deserve.

The review suggested a way to help ensure fundamental fairness and human rights compliance; an appeals system could be provided ‘which provides a right of appeal consistent with the Scottish Government’s legal obligations in terms of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’ – a treaty which is currently being incorporated into Scots law.

This idea with a framework to help achieve it was proposed by Scotland’s children’s commissioner and ‘SQA Where’s Our Say?’ in August.

It is important these proposals are taken forward as a matter of urgency to ensure no child slips through the net in 2021.

The deputy first minister has acknowledged there is a need for a model which is ‘more flexible to the specific circumstances of the individual’ pupil, and this is to be welcomed.

However, the cancellation of exams has not solved problems. It has created a haze of uncertainty where our young people and teachers deserve to have a degree of clarity.

Ultimately, it is still not too late for Mr Swinney to rectify the adverse impact for the young people still left behind by directing the SQA to allow a review of their cases.

Only then will the Scottish Government be able to demonstrate that they are committed to ensuring a UNCRC approach is embedded in all future decision-making.

Dr Tracy Kirk is a children’s rights expert and lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University

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