Demands for new education secretary to reveal exam appeals system and OECD report date

Shirley-Anne Somerville has been warned of a “summer of discontent” and pressed to reveal how the exams appeals process will work this year after the government missed a deadline to produce the information.

New education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville is already being pressed for answers.

The new Education Secretary is also facing demands to set a date for the release of a long-awaited OECD review into the efficacy of the current Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland’s high schools.

Scottish Labour’s new education spokesman, Michael Marra has written to Ms Somerville, who was appointed to replace John Swinney on Tuesday, seeking to know how pupils can appeal the grades they are awarded through this year’s controversial Alternative Certification Model.

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He said: “We are facing a summer of discontent in education. It is not of the new minister’s making but it falls to her to deal with it. That’s why I am calling on the minister to listen to teachers, education experts, unions and Labour and take the vital action needed now to solve another exams fiasco in our education system.

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"Our young people need hope after this dreadful year. The minister must deal with the damage and distress that has already been caused by this government. She must also start to rebuild opportunity for young Scots’ futures."

In his letter Mr Marra says the “immediate priority” for Ms Somerville should be “the current exams crisis which is impacting tens of thousands of young people, their teachers and their families right now.”

He writes: “Your predecessor’s insistence that there are no exams being undertaken did a disservice to the process that young people are currently undertaking with all their effort. It is clear that lessons from last year’s exams fiasco have not be learned, and that this year’s alternative assessment system has the potential to be more damaging than the one used last year.”

Mr Marra says there was an “urgent need” for Ms Somerville and the Scottish Qualifications Authority to publish the appeals process and adds: “It is unforgivable that young people and their teachers have been entered into this process, with no clarity regarding how it will conclude.”

He also calls for “a ‘resit’ guarantee” to allow young people access to a college place to sit qualifications again and for the government to engage with colleges and universities “to ensure that there is a no detriment policy” in place.

His letter to Ms Somerville comes as the Scottish Greens revealed the SQA had missed its own deadline to confirm how the appeals process will work.

Meanwhile new education spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, Oliver Mundell, has said the government “must set a specific date early in June to publish the OECD schools report”.

The OECD review was not published before the election, with the government stating the timetable was in the hands of the OECD and it could not publish without its agreement.

Mr Mundell said: “The OECD review has been delayed for too long already. This report has to be properly scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible so we can start to make progress before the next school year.

“The SNP can’t adopt its usual formula of delaying a crucial document to the last few days of term, so MSPs have too little time to dissect their failures.”

An SQA spokesman said: “The outcomes of the appeals consultation are currently being finalised, following the public consultation.

“We aim to announce details of the appeals process imminently. Learners should be reassured that a comprehensive appeals process will be in place in good time. The current focus should be on maximising teaching and learning and the gathering of evidence to support the development of provisional grades.”

Asked about the lack of clarity for pupils and teachers, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “We’re taking great care over these decisions, it’s important that we try to get the system for appeals right and we’ve been listening carefully to some of the representations that have been made from people, including the children’s commission.

“I personally had discussions with education officials about it this week to make sure we get the details of it right.

“The details of it are being finalised and we do expect to publish the details of what the appeals process looks like very soon.

“I hope that it will give a lot of reassurance to young people that – if they feel when they get the grade that is awarded to them that they are not happy with that – then they have the ability to go through an appeals process.

“But I hope people will understand, given the situation we’re in right now, that we’re taking time and the SQA is taking time.”

On the OECD report a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is the OECD’s report and the OECD has determined the timing of its publication, which is expected to be by the end of June.”

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