Oliver Mundell slams the Scottish 'exam chaos'

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Freedom of Information (FOI) data obtained by the Scottish Conservatives ahead of National, Higher and Advanced Higher results day tomorrow revealed pupils have been marked more harshly than last year. It comes after the Scottish Government introduced a new alternative certification model (ACM) following the cancellation of formal exams due to COVID-19 for the second year in a row.

The ACM was aimed at allowing teachers to decide pupil grades based on evidence of attainment.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is due to publish ACM-determined grades for 145,000 students, although provisional results were provided to pupils before the end of term.

But the Scottish Tories said the new system was just as “unfair and flawed” as last year.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney previously presided over a controversial U-turn on exam results due to COVID-19 in 2020.

More than 124,000 results were downgraded during a botched SQA moderation process in August 2020, which were introduced after COVID-19 forced the scrapping of exams.

Protests forced Mr Swinney to apologise, with amended grades eventually being withdrawn creating a huge backlash from parents, students and teachers.

Pre-release data released by several councils this year shows dramatic drops with higher A-C passes in Aberdeenshire Council down by 4.7 percent on average.

Compared with the 2020 results, there were also drops of over 11 percent in Maths, over 17 per cent in Chemistry and nearly 13 percent in Physics.

Meanwhile, Higher A-C passes in the Highlands Council area are were down by 7.5 percent on average.

Compared with the 2020 results, there were also drops of over 20 percent in Biology, over 15 percent in Chemistry, over 14 percent in Maths, and more than 10 percent in Physics.

At the same time, the Scottish Government is due to make a decision this month on whether the 2022 exams will go ahead.

Oliver Mundell MSP, Scottish Conservative Education spokesperson, said: “It looks like this year’s system is just as unfair and flawed as last year.

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“Pupils seem to have faced a postcode lottery.

“We warned this could happen when it became clear that young people would be sitting exams under inconsistent conditions, with wide variations in difficulty from council to council and even school to school.”

The Dumfriesshire MSP also argued the traditional Scottish exams system should be retained following “two years of chaos”.

He added: “These back-to-back years of chaos are the strongest argument in favour of retaining and restoring traditional Scottish exams.

“The deep unfairness young people have suffered cannot become an annual event.”

Ross Greer MSP, Scottish Greens education representative said exams results day should be “marked with an apology.”

He added: “The Scottish Government and SQA should start this year’s results day with an apology to Scotland’s young people for the entirely avoidable levels of stress and anxiety they were put through.

“The decision to cancel exams was taken far too late, the alternative grading system was based on evidence that didn’t yet exist and the only way to produce it on time was through tests which in every meaningful way mirrored the exams they had cancelled.”

Mr Greer also slated the SQA appeals process, which allows unhappy students to appeal their grades, but not on compassionate grounds or other exceptional circumstances.

He added: “It is scandalous that the SQA has refused to take this into account despite hearing the stories of young people having to undertake these de-facto exams just days after losing a family member or when they themselves had been seriously ill.”

Beatrice Wishart MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said: “I am hoping that every pupil gets the results that they deserve but I worry that this will not be the case.

“The fact that the head of the SQA didn’t see fit to apologise for last year’s results shambles suggests that few lessons have been learned.”

The Shetlands Islands MSP also claimed: “Pupils were forced into exams in all but name, sitting as many as 40 assessments in 8 weeks, crammed in with little notice.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Scotland’s Education Secretary for Shirley-Anne Somerville accused opposition parties of “playing politics.”

She said: “It’s disappointing to see opposition parties attacking results before they are even out and trying to play politics with Scotland’s school pupils, rather than engaging constructively to celebrate the achievements of our young people under extraordinary circumstances.

“I congratulate learners and teachers – the opposition should do likewise.

“This year’s more flexible approach will deliver fair, credible and consistent results based on teacher judgement of the evidence of each pupil’s attainment.

“Scotland’s industry leaders and employers have also made it clear that they recognise and value the qualifications achieved by young people this year as much as any other year.”

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It comes after the Scottish Government announced an additional £50million in funding to recruit new teachers.

It is suggested that up to 1,500 new posts, including classroom assistants, will be created in the scheme.

But critics have warned that there is still much to be done to rectify Scotland’s creaking education programme.

Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra said the money must be shown to be totally new funding in order for the plan to work properly.

He said: “This is just a first step towards reversing years of SNP cuts.

“This government must set about undoing their own damage but it comes at a time of unprecedented loss in education.

“The SNP remains in denial about the scale of the challenges schools face if they think this is a silver bullet.

“This only starts to reverse the SNP’s cuts to education – never mind dealing with the devastation caused by the pandemic.”

Ms Sommerville added: “Recruiting more permanent staff will be one of the cornerstones of recovery. 

“The £50million funding will allow councils to recruit more teachers and pupil support assistants next year.”

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