Airdrie MSP Alex Neil has “very much welcomed” the reversal of the exams downgrading decision – having called the moderation of results “a fiasco” and written to SNP colleague Mr Swinney last week to ask for a review.
He also quizzed SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson at this week’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, and highlighted the “human cost” as he told of young constituents who were “distraught” by their original grades.
Mr Neil told the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser: “I was concerned that pupils in my constituency would have been unfairly affected by the downgrades had they gone ahead; poorer youngsters would have suffered most had that happened.
“Across North Lanarkshire, 46 per cent of all assessments were downgraded by the SQA, and most of these were because of the school’s record in exams and not related to the individual performance of pupils.
“This was unfair for young people living in deprived communities who worked hard to get the results they deserved, which has now happened – and also to teachers working in these schools, as their professional judgement was being second-guessed.”
Announcing the U-turn at Holyrood, education secretary Mr Swinney announced that there will be an independent enquiry into the assessment system; and Mr Neil added: “I await this report with interest, and hope it ensures we will have a much fairer system implemented for the future.”
The Airdrie representative said at Holyrood’s education committee meeting: “Almost every member warned that to develop a methodology in secret, without proper and fairly wide consultation would end in tears.”
He agreed with Labour member Iain Gray, saying: “Everybody and their granny knew that, if you used the records of local schools, you would end up in the situation that we [did].
“If you rely so heavily on the fairly recent results in individual schools, you were bound to end up in an unfair situation in which the grades of pupils in the poorest areas were downgraded at two-and-half times the rate of those in the most affluent areas; that was built into the methodology from day one [and] was entirely predictable.”
He asked Ms Robertson if the SQA needs “to listen to pupils, parents and teachers much more than you did during this exercise” and asked for assurance that “if we end up having to go through a similar process next year because we are still not in a position to hold exams, you would change the system?”
Ms Robertson said: “It is important that we are a listening organisation. We have spent a lot of time over the past few months speaking to teachers and engaging with young people and others; however, if some feel that that was not enough, we need to hear that and learn from it.
“[The independent] review, which will be concluded within five weeks, will inform the process for next year and we will ensure that we learn from that in what could be a complicated year.
“We remain on track for exams next year – that is the conclusion of the education recovery group, which is chaired by the Deputy First Minister.
“We are putting some additional arrangements in place to help teachers and young people maximise learning and teaching time and to ensure that we have contingency arrangements in place for a variety of circumstances in the coming year.