Concerns over “fairness” in Scots qualifications this year raised by MSPs

MSPs have raised fears that some Scots pupils may lose out on the grades they deserve this year because of the school they attend.
Scotland's exams have been cancelled this year and grades will be based on teachers estimatesScotland's exams have been cancelled this year and grades will be based on teachers estimates
Scotland's exams have been cancelled this year and grades will be based on teachers estimates

But education chiefs insist that youngsters will get qualifications which "stand the test of time" and played down claims that that "fairness" may be jeopardised after all exams were cancelled this year as a result of Coronavirus. .

Higher and national qualifications will be handed out on the basis of classroom work and teachers estimates. But the national exam body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), may alter these estimates - through a "moderation" process - if they are out of kilter with previous performance from the pupil or school.

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Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene raised concerns over "fairness and consistency" at a meeting of Holyrood's education committee today, after attending focus groups with teachers and reading reports from others.

"They're all saying the same thing," he said.

"Teachers from right across the country from different backgrounds and different locations with the same concern that in order to achieve consistency that will jeopardise fairness.

"Some of the measures you will introduce to ensure that the national picture looks appropriate, at a granular level some pupils may not get the awards that the teachers think are due to them and indeed some students will look at the qualifications they received and be tremendously unhappy with it because of those national consistency measures that you have applied."

Labour's Iain Gray raised concerns that the a pupil who is given a pass grade by their teacher "could have that grade reduced on the basis of previous poor performance in that school."

He insisted there may be an explanation why a cohort at a particular school may have done better this year.

SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson told the committee that the body would look at a "range of evidence" in the process of moderation and previous school performance would only be one factor in this.

The exams chief said she had a responsibility to ensure an "A grade in one school is as far as possible consistent with and A grade in another school."

"That is the foundation of the approach we are taking to estimates," she added.

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"The assertion that somehow we will fail a young person because of the school they go to - that feels an unfair statement.”

Ms Robertson went on: "It is really important that the class of 2020 get qualifications that stand the test of this year and the challenges of this year, but also most importantly stand the test of time.

"By working together I do believe that we can do that."

She said the "moderation" process could see pupils either marked up or down from the grades which are provided by schools. It will based on estimates provided in the past for pupils' achievements, the pattern of attainment in the school in recent years, as well as discussion with teachers and departments about estimates.

"It is really important that we ensure fairness and consistency and that is the job we will be seeking to do when we look at the estimates," she added.

But she added: "We have to have a mechanism in place to validate, to provide reassurance and if necessary we have to reserve the right of making some changes to estimated grades."

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