Scotland exam results: Why the figures are so shocking

The 2022 exam results are stark and shocking.

Pass rates are down and the attainment gap – the thing the Scottish Government is, allegedly, committed to closing – has been hugely increased.

Crucially, none of this happened by accident, or as some unforeseen consequence of other decisions. These results are exactly what they were supposed to be – a huge step back towards the broken status-quo of pre-pandemic years.

The powers that be regard it as unfair, and unacceptable, that so many poorer students did so much better in the past couple of years, and so they set out to correct this – in their minds – searing injustice.

The Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) said there was ‘no statistical manipulation’ of exam result figures this year. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

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Pass rates have dropped, but they’ve fallen much further for the most deprived pupils than for those from wealthy areas, and they’ve declined further in state schools than in private ones. The gap between rich and poor, which was more than halved by the removal of outdated and inaccurate exams in 2020, has been almost entirely restored in one incredibly callous swoop. Job done.

But the Scottish Qualifications Authority and SNP/Green Government PR machines want you to believe that, actually, these are really good results because they’re a little better than 2019, but that’s a wilfully inaccurate comparison. Don’t fall for it.

The students who received their results yesterday did so after another academic year ravaged by Covid-related disruption. The damage done to students’ learning experiences was at least as severe as the previous two years, but we’re all supposed to just forget about that as thousands of kids from Scotland’s most deprived areas are treated with contempt by those in charge of the education system.

The approach might have changed, but the attitude that created the 2020 scandal is, clearly, alive and well.

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Sure, some young people are now going to miss out on university places, college courses and training opportunities, but they’re mostly poor pupils, so it doesn’t really matter, right?

What matters, apparently, is keeping those from deprived parts of the country in their place and making sure that, going forward, the pre-pandemic gaps between rich and poor students are once again seen as the natural order of things.

- James McEnaney is a lecturer and author of Class Rules: The Truth about Scottish Schools.

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