Analysis: Critics vindicated by Scottish exams report as SQA continue to deny obvious

The release of the Priestley report is proof, if it was needed, that the exam results fiasco this summer was not only avoidable, but should have been anticipated.

Saturday, 10th October 2020, 7:00 am
John Swinney was criticised in the Priestley report
John Swinney was criticised in the Priestley report

John Swinney is lucky to be still standing as education secretary. He survived calls to quit at the height of the scandal and, on any other day, cancelling National 5 exams would have been front page.

It’s a choice that will please nobody. Teachers will say it adds to their workload, pupils will be guinea pigs if sitting exams or not, while politicians argue over specifics.

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Algorithm at heart of Scottish exam results fiasco not analysed

That debate on the appropriateness of exams will rage on, but as it does the utter failure of the 2020 exam results flies under the radar.

A cynic would suggest the delay to Mr Swinney’s statement by a day was deliberate. New restrictions, Nicola Sturgeon’s evidence to the Salmond inquiry and a debate on the Internal Market Bill meant Wednesday was a good day to bury bad news.

The failure of both the qualifications authority and, in John Swinney one of the most experienced Scottish Government ministers, to spot the inevitable consequences of using such a model is most shocking and the Priestley report is damning.

Issues around the algorithm impacting the poorest should have been “anticipated”, the defence the attainment gap had narrowed was “over-focused” on by the government, while the model itself was “arbitrary”.

Now with the revelations a third of all students saw their grades lowered by one grade and an astonishing 408 individuals saw five or more grades downgraded under the original system, the question must be asked why warning signs were brazenly ignored.

Instead of dealing with the issue, Mr Swinney’s office were told to “do lots of digging” to spin the positives, seemingly blind to the obvious and ignorant of the impact on individuals.

Clearly the moderation system was unfit for purpose.

Somehow the SQA still sits with its fingers in its ears, insisting in the report they held “no regret” in using the scandal-hit algorithm.

The government’s initial endorsement is the mark of a party in the SNP that talks the talk on equalities and equal opportunity, but fails when it comes to action.

Mr Swinney is lucky to have survived. The SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson should buy a lottery ticket.

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