Alternative Scottish school assessments ‘akin to gaslighting’, MSPs told

The Scottish Government’s insistence this year’s school assessments are not exams is akin to “gaslighting” in the eyes of some pupils, MSPs have been told.

Scottish Labour’s Paul Sweeney said in Holyood on Wednesday that one pupil he had spoken to said students had been told repeatedly the assessments they sat at the end of the year were not exams – but found them to be exams in all but name.

His comments came as he questioned education secretary Shirley-Anna Somerville about the use of historic data in deciding on pupils’ grades in the absence of formal exams for Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) qualifications.

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It emerged earlier this week that although the Scottish Government had said that 2021 results would be based purely on teachers’ professional judgements, councils across the country have put in place a system to compare proposed results this year with grades from previous years.

Formal exams were cancelled in Scotland this year
Formal exams were cancelled in Scotland this year

However, data from last year, when the pass rates improved, is not being included in these comparisons.

Mr Sweeney said: “Teachers and pupils have been contacting me in distress and under pressure due to what one teacher called exams by stealth, while one pupil contacted me likening the approach from the SQA to gaslighting.

"These concerns have been compounded by the elimination of last year's results from historic grade boundaries. It seems to me that the government has failed the most disadvantaged pupils again. There is no room for teacher judgement. Estimate grades must be evidence based.”

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Ms Somerville said the model had been created in conjunction with teachers and other stakeholders and that historic data only “helped identify patterns and trends”.

She said: “The model that we have in the alternative certification model home has been co-produced with the National Qualifications 21 group and that does include teachers’ representation. They specifically asked as part of that process that this was about demonstrated attainment.”

Ms Somerville added: “If a learner demonstrates that they have earned a certain grade, that is what they will get.”

The education secretary also said parents should watch school sports days remotely on schools’ “online, secure platforms” and reiterated the Scottish Government did not believe it was safe for families to attend nursery graduations.

She explained the decision had been made based on the “disruption” that could be caused to pupils, staff and parents having to self isolate. However, she pledged to look into other options for the new school year.

Ms Somerville said: “I absolutely recognise the importance of events to mark the end of a key stage in a child or a young person's in life, and very careful consideration has been given to this. The current guidance has been considered very recently once again by the Covid education recovery group, and by the advisory subgroup on education and children's issues.

"We're not able to recommend changes to the position at that time, but I do understand that many schools have made plans within the guidance.

"One of the reasons that we've not been able to suggest and propose a change in that is that if we know of cases identified within an education setting, then they can often disrupt the whole setting, with perhaps many children and young people and teachers having to self isolate.”

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