FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon pledges to investigate any evidence of pupils' withdrawal from Highers after assessment failures

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she would investigate evidence that children are being “inappropriately” withdrawn from Higher qualifications after performing badly in assessments “as a matter of urgency”.

In an answer at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said that if there was evidence that schools are refusing to put forward students to receive a formal qualification from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in any way that is “less appropriate” than in previous years, she would look into the situation.

The Scotsman today revealed that some schools have told parents their children have not made the grade in the school-administered alternative assessments and will therefore not be put forward for a qualification to the SQA. Doing so means 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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Politicians have warned the practice could be used to "massage” results for school league table statistics.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andy Buchanan/PA Wire

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Scottish schools withdrawing pupils from Higher courses after poor assessment gr...

Speaking at FMQs, Scottish Labour shadow education secretary Michael Marra said: “Evidence in today’s Scotsman shows that young peopled judged to have failed a course are not having their grades submitted to the SQA.

"While non-presentation of candidates for exams is a feature of our system in normal years, this year it is a decision being taken after the result is known. Crucially, in this year, young people not presented to the SQA then lose their ability to appeal against how they are being judged.

"Does the First Minister believes that this is an acceptable practice, and will her government issue guidance against it ahead of the grade submission deadline next week?”

Michael Marra raised the issue of students being withdrawn from Highers at First Minister's Questions

Ms Sturgeon said: “I am not aware of any evidence that suggests this is being used in a way this year that would be less appropriate than last year, but if there is evidence that anybody wants to put forward, we will look at that as a matter of urgency.

"As Michael Marra rightly says, in any academic year, decisions will be made about whether it is right or not to put a young person forward for a qualification – in normal years for an exam – and that is a decision that should always be taken in line with the interests of the young person.

"So that will be happening in some cases this year. If anybody has evidence that is happening inappropriately, as I said, we will look at that as a matter of urgency.”

In place of formal exams, high school students are this year sitting ‘alternative assessments’, which are set by individual schools.

Pupils are to be told their provisional grades before the end of the summer term, to allow them to appeal if necessary – unusually, giving schools the chance to assess the gradings before they are passed on to the SQA for formal certification.

In ‘normal’ years, a small number of pupils are withdrawn part-way through their Higher courses, often after receiving disappointing results at their preliminary exams in January. However, these exams were also cancelled this year as Scottish schools were closed due to lockdown.

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