Threat of Scottish exams disruption as SQA staff consider strike action

The Scottish Government needs to take action to prevent another year of exams chaos, Scottish Labour has warned, after it emerged staff at exams body the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) could strike before the agency is scrapped.

A union has warned there could be disruption to this year’s exams diet – as well as the reform of Scotland’s assessment system – if staff at the SQA opt to strike.

Unite said staff at the SQA, which the Scottish Government has pledged to scrap following recommendations from a report carried out into Scotland’s education system by the OECD, were being used as a “political pawn”.

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There are concerns talks about the replacement for the SQA could go on for years, leaving staff in limbo.

The exams diet has been disrupted for the past two years. Picture: PAThe exams diet has been disrupted for the past two years. Picture: PA
The exams diet has been disrupted for the past two years. Picture: PA

The Unite branch at the SQA is due to hold a consultative ballot on strike action.

Alison MacLean, Unite industrial officer, said: “The impact of industrial action? Absolutely yes, there is an impact on the exam diet. There is an impact on the ability to undertake this reform.

“The biggest issue for the public if industrial action takes place is a threat to future exam diets as well as the reform of national qualifications being impacted and/or delayed.”

Ms MacLean continued: “They are asking staff under threat of redundancy to carry on with a smile on their face.

"It is as if they’re locking them in a cupboard and saying ‘we want you to do this work for us, but we can’t guarantee you will have job security’.

“It is a political decision of the Scottish Government and our members are being used as a political pawn and football in all of it.”

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A group led by Professor Louise Hayward of Glasgow University will advise ministers on a new exams system.

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The exams body is to be broken up and replaced, with pupils, parents and teachers to be consulted on changes. Responsibility for school inspections will be split off to a new independent system.

The changes come after two years of disrupted exams as a result of Covid.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “The SNP Government must act immediately to prevent yet another year of exams chaos as a result of their own mismanagement.

“Staff in the SQA warned their failed leaders of the consequences of awarding grades by algorithm, but they were ignored and now are worried for their own job security."

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said: “Pupils have suffered two years of chaos and now may face yet another thanks to the incompetence of the SNP.”

An SQA spokeswoman said: “SQA management has continually pressed the Scottish Government for commitments on job security for staff since it announced in June that the SQA is to be replaced. We understand the Scottish Government is actively considering the issue.

“Any threat of industrial action is disappointing and not in the interests of learners.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We appreciate the announcement to replace the SQA has caused uncertainty for staff and we are committed to ensuring that employment rights are protected.

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“The matters raised by staff and unions are being carefully considered and we will continue to engage and consult with them to try to address concerns.”

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