SNP ministers to have shield of deniability over second exams scandal - Conor Matchett

A year ago the SNP-led Scottish Government encountered one of its most damaging and revealing scandals of its 14-year tenure.

Thousands of students saw their grades artificially lowered on the basis of the past performance of pupils from other years to preserve a ‘system’ that has long been skewed against the poorest in Scotland.

For a full week John Swinney failed to grasp the most basic of human principles; fairness.

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Scotland's pupils will receive their exam results today. Picture: PA

Only the threat of a no-confidence vote in Holyrood and a deal with the Scottish Greens forced the former education secretary into a U-turn after days of denial, distraction, and demonstrations.

Not only should the now ‘Covid recovery’ secretary have lost his job, but the problems created were raised as potential issues and shown to be avoidable from the early days of the pandemic.

In 2021, arguably a year in which pupils have had more significant disruption to their learning due to Covid, the Scottish Government is embroiled in yet another entirely avoidable exams scandal.

Pupils were told late in their first term that exams would be scrapped and replaced by a nebulous ‘alternative certification model’ based on teacher judgement and demonstrated attainment.

In reality this saw teenagers sit exams in all but name, teachers forced to rely on Covid-impacted exam seasons, leaked exam papers and marking schemes, and differing interpretations of exactly what counted as ‘demonstrated attainment’.

Created by Mr Swinney, but retained by the new sacrificial lamb to the education post, Shirley-Anne Somerville, the system also includes the use of ‘historical attainment’ at schools to moderate the results based on teacher judgement.

This was used by councils and head teachers to root out those results that just don’t quite fit the data.

It goes without saying this is more likely to hurt good students at historically poorly achieving schools.

There is no algorithm of doom, but the result is likely to be similar.

The difference is the machinations will be outwith the public eye and kept behind the closed doors of schools and council offices and provide the SNP with a shield of deniability.

The approach is one where institutional denial of a system is twinned with the appearance of slow, steady and therefore believable progression on the narrowing of the attainment gap.

It is one that has comprehensively failed learners.

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