'No role for council interference with pupil grades', insists Scottish education secretary

Teachers should not be told to downgrade the grades of their pupils by local authorities as part of the “quality assurance” process, Scotland’s education secretary has insisted.

Shirley-Anne Somerville who was speaking on Friday at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the alternative exams system for 2021 does not allow for teacher grades to be challenged on the basis of an “algorithm”.

The newly-appointed education secretary has come under significant pressure in recent weeks following the announcement of the appeals system for pupils sitting exams.

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The appeals system, as well as the ‘alternative certification model’ (ACM) being used to award Highers and National 5s this year, has been criticised for failing to take into account the pressures of the pandemic and for pressuring teachers into matching grades with historic attainment.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said there is "no role" for council interference in awarding pupil grades.

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Nicola Sturgeon was accused of being “sleekit” on the issue during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday after councils said they would be using historic attainment data to check the grades awarded by teachers.

Questioned on what a teacher should do if asked by a council to lower the grades of one of their pupils, Ms Somerville said there was “no place” for such intervention.

Insisting the model was based on “demonstrated attainment and the teacher’s judgement of that demonstrated attainment”, she said the grade awarded by the school for a pupil “will stay that pupil’s grade” with no interference from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

She said: “There is a quality assurance process at a local level where a local authority or a school can look at previous attainment and can see if there are outliers and ask teachers to verify if they are content with their original decisions.

"There is no place in this model for local authorities to instruct a teacher, because the whole point of the ACM is that it is based on demonstrated attainment and the teacher’s judgement of that demonstrated attainment.

"If there are any examples of that coming forward or even if there are any concerns from teachers that that is what is happening, then I absolutely would want to hear about that because that is not how the model is designed to work.

"That is not what we all agreed in the NQ21 group of how the model would work, so I would take that very seriously if there is anything like that going on because that is not how the model is designed to work.”

The education secretary was also pressed for more details of the planned review of the role, remit and purpose of the qualifications authority and Education Scotland.

Stating that more detail would be announced in Holyrood on June 22, the day Ms Somerville is expected to respond to the long-awaited OECD report into Scottish education, the education secretary failed to say whether the review would be independent of the SQA, Education Scotland and the Scottish Government.

She said: “I am really, really keen that we look at this properly. This is not a piecemeal piece of reform, this is not a round-the-edges piece of reform. We absolutely need to get this right.

"I am determined to make sure that we do that in a way where we have got teacher’s voices, parent’s voices and very importantly as well young people’s voices.”.

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