John Swinney confirms SQA will fail pupils despite teachers' judgement

School pupils could fail to pass an exam subject despite being awarded a pass by their teacher because of moderation by the national qualifications body, Scotland’s education minister has admitted.

John Swinney has said that pupils could be failed by the SQA despite a teacher's pass.

During a virtual question time with MSPs, John Swinney said that Scottish Qualifications Authority could see pupils have their grades, as adjudged by their teacher, downgraded as a result of previous performance of their school.

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Scottish pupils risk being punished for schools’ past failures

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School exams were cancelled for the first time in Scottish history this year as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, and the SQA said that grades would be estimated by teachers based on their knowledge of puipils’ work.

However since then, the exam body has said it would take other factors into consideration before awarding grades, including the past performance of a school.

Asked by Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, Iain Gray, if this would mean pupils passed by their teachers could be failed by the SQA, Mr Swinney confirmed that was the case.

He said: “There will be moderation in the classroom, departments, within schools and by the SQA and each step of that is important to ensure confidence that there’s a robust approach being taken in terms of certification of qualifications this year.

“There will be a situation that exists where the SQA may increase a grade awarded or it may decrease a grade that has been awarded.”

Mr Gray said pupils, especially those in less affluent areas, would now find their grades revised downwards even to the point of failure if their performance is judged to be unexpectedly good compared to their predecessors.

He said: “This is not reassuring for pupils or parents who may now worry that even if a teacher awards a pass mark, this may be revoked by the SQA.

“For those who are in their final years in particular, the grade they are awarded may well determine whether they are offered a place at college or university. It is not good enough that it has taken so long to get clarity on this issue, and that some pupils who will have worked very hard may lose out.

“Pupils deserve to be graded based on their own merit, and should not be penalised for their school’s past record. If we are to trust teacher judgement, then we should trust it.

“This unfairness will hit pupils in deprived areas hardest and is likely to overload the appeals procedures too. It is a further bias against those who already have the educational odds stacked against them.”

Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman asked if pupils would be informed of thegrade the teachers award them in addition to the SQA award, and if they could appeal if they didn’t match.​

Mr Swinney said: “The information about what is given to a pupil is a matter for the school and the local authority – we don’t hold that data. We don’t have a locus to exercise a responsibilty there.

“Any pupil will be able to appeal the ultimate qualification they are certificated with by the SQA and that will be a free process available to any pupil.”

Mr Swinney added it an “important point to remember is we’re dealing with an unprecedented situation.”

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