John Swinney rejects accusation exam results u-turn was about saving his job

The education secretary said “no” when asked if the threat of losing his job was the catalyst for the change of policy.

Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney has apologised to students whose results were downgraded after exams were cancelled due to coronavirus.

The education secretary John Swinney has said the Scottish Government’s major u-turn over exam results was not done to save his job.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, the deputy first minister categorically rejected the accusation the u-turn was done because he faced a no confidence motion, instead stating he was “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Yesterday, Mr Swinney announced that all students who saw their exams downgraded by the SQA will receive the estimated grades submitted by their teachers.

Any students who saw their grade go up will keep their mark, while Mr Swinney also announced an independent review into the handling of the fiasco, including a further review into the exams system itself.

When asked whether the u-turn came about after a week due to an impending no confidence vote which was due to be tabled by Scottish Labour and was being backed by the Scottish Conservatives, Mr Swinney said “no”.

He said: "I did it because I am accountable to the Scottish Parliament and the national parliament was meeting for the first time yesterday.

"The people who are now calling for my resignation would have complained if I had not announced what I announced yesterday to parliament.

"I am afraid it is another example of a minister being damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Mr Swinney added that he recognised there was an issue with the results last week and said he had decided to make the statement to parliament.

The Scotsman understands that pressure from the Scottish Greens who held the crucial votes in any no confidence motion led to the u-turn, with all four of the Greens’ requests part of the announcement yesterday.

Mr Swinney added: “We decided we should not emphasise the need to maintain standards which is the direction I had given to the SQA back in March, but we should essentially respect the concerns and impact of Covid on young people and give young people the estimates that teachers had given for them.

"I knew last week that we had a problem and I could see it emerging over the last few days, but I judged it was right to go to parliament and to set out that position.

"I said last Thursday what I was going to do to parliament and make a statement, so it was obvious we were going to do something about the exams."

“The conclusion I came to – having listened to the heartfelt pleas of young people and the anguish experienced by young people – was that I had to take into account not just the need to maintain standards but to recognise that 2020 is an absolutely unique and extraordinary year in which many people in our country have experienced suffering and our young people have experienced suffering in a whole variety of different ways.

“I concluded that we had not taken enough account of the trauma and the difficulty created by Covid-19 in the lives of those young people and accordingly I said that we should respect and apply the judgments made by individual teachers.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. Visit now to sign up.

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.