SQA chief refuses to apologise over last year's grades debacle

The head of the Scottish Qualifications Authority has refused to apologise over last year’s exams debacle, when students saw their exam results downgraded by an algorithm.

S5 and S6 students during an English Literature class at St Andrew's RC Secondary School in Glasgow.
S5 and S6 students during an English Literature class at St Andrew's RC Secondary School in Glasgow.

Speaking ahead of this year’s exams results day on Tuesday, Fiona Robertson said the SQA had “acted in good faith” last year.

The body is due to be disbanded and replaced following an OECD report earlier this year. The Scottish Government said it would accept all recommendations in full, including scrapping the SQA and “substantially” reforming” Education Scotland.

Last year, National 5 and Higher qualification grades were be based on teachers’ estimates, using prelim exam results, coursework and staff judgement. However, after results had been awarded, many pupils were told their result would be downgraded due to an algorithm that took into account a school’s past performance.

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Ms Robertson said: “I think the pandemic has obviously been very challenging for us all, and I think we acted in good faith to put an approach in place as a result of that commission from ministers to deliver an alternative certification approach to maintain standards, but following results day, we were asked to do something different and we did. And we've moved on. And my focus now, obviously, has been to learn from that that process.”

Asked if she would apologise to pupils for last year’s situation, Ms Robertson said: “We worked hard to ensure that the ministerial direction, which was to award teacher assessed grades, was delivered and in taking forward the approach this year that we worked very much with the system to ensure that grades were awarded reflecting the skills and achievements of young people. And that's what we've done."

She added: “Unlike last year, young people do know their results, they will have been informed of their results before the end of term.”

She added: “We were working to deliver on a commission for ministers. Ministers asked us to deliver results to maintain standards [across years], and that's what we did. We set out the approach that we took and that was supported by a number of a number of documents which which provided more detail about that. But there was also a process in place such that if young people felt that it was the wrong result, their school could could appeal.”

This year, exams were replaced by an alternative assessment model, which was administered by schools rather than the SQA.

However, earlier this year, The Scotsman revealed that parents of some pupils who sat alternative assessments after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) formal exams were cancelled this year due to the pandemic were told their child’s provisional result was a fail – and they should therefore be withdrawn from the course before the entries are submitted to the SQA for formal grades to be assigned. Doing so would mean there would be no record of the child ever having taken a course in that particular subject – leaving no trace of a failing grade for either the pupil or the school.

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