Is Boris Johnson’s Government not paying attention to Scotland? – leader comment

The UK Government’s U-turn over the downgrading of teacher-assessed exam results in England was predictable by anyone who saw what happened in Scotland.

Boris Johnson on a visit to Stromness harbour in Orkney
Boris Johnson on a visit to Stromness harbour in Orkney

As A-level students and their parents celebrated the decision in England to scrap the downgrading of about 40 per cent of exam results and use the original teachers’ assessments instead, the over-riding feeling in Scotland was one of déjà vu.

The affair was virtually a carbon copy of the downgrading of exam results in Scotland, with the same widespread uproar and subsequent government U-turn.

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The fact that two governments run by such different parties as the SNP and the Conservatives acted in roughly the same way suggests they both thought they were doing the right thing, rather than taking decisions based on any supposed political bias as some have claimed.

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The Westminster U-turn may also, rather unusually, provide some comfort for Nicola Sturgeon and education secretary John Swinney over their decision to perform the same manoeuvre. At the very least, it will make it harder for the Scottish Tories to criticise SNP ministers over the fiasco, given the risk of their words being turned into ammunition by opposition parties down south for use in attacks on Boris Johnson and co. But it also suggests they did eventually come around to the correct decision.

One potential situation that could have blown up into a significant issue had the UK government not followed Scotland’s suit was the prospect of a Scottish student, with results assessed by teachers, competing for a place at university or for a job with a pupil from an English school, whose teacher-assessed marks had been downgraded. Would academia and business have sought to take this into account by somehow upgrading the English student’s results?

Some may be sceptical about teacher-assessed grades compared to exams, but it’s not ridiculous to suggest that the former method might in some cases be a better judge of a pupil’s abilities than the latter. The problem comes when seeking to compare radically different methods. Teacher assessment is not ideal, it should be a one-off, but at least there is now a degree of consistency in grading across the UK for this year.

The remaining question is why on Earth the UK government sought to press ahead with downgrading despite the uproar in Scotland. Did they think they knew better or somehow the reaction would be different? Or is this, perhaps, a sign that Westminster simply isn’t paying attention to Scotland in the way that a government committed to the Union should be?

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