SQA appeals system ‘not human rights compliant’ as Swinney criticised for ‘new low’

The SQA system has come under criticism

Thursday, 17th September 2020, 7:30 am
John Swinney has come under criticism for his handling of the exam results fiasco

The SQA’s appeal system has been described by a leading children’s rights academic as not being “human rights compliant” due to the lack of an appeals system for students who fell they received incorrect grade estimates from their teachers.

Dr Tracy Kirk, a children’s rights expert at Glasgow Caledonian University, wrote to the education committee in Holyrood as part of a submission for the youth-led campaign group ‘SQA Where’s Our Say’.

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The group are raising awareness of those students who felt they received incorrect estimates from teachers, but whose schools will not allow them to appeal those grades.

In a research brief, Dr Kirk states the right to appeal being removed from these students meant the SQA and the Scottish Government had breached the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the SQA system as a whole is not compliant.

She wrote: “Currently, the SQA appeals process only permits schools to appeal on behalf of their students.

"This means that students are being told to go to the school who have acted in a discriminatory way towards them, and ask the school to submit an appeal based upon the schools wrongdoing.

“It is difficult to think of another area where individuals would be expected to go to the person who has discriminated against them to ask for legal redress. This underpins the seriousness of this situation and the importance of the Scottish Government and SQA taking action consistent with their legal obligations.

“Having a direct appeals process where the school does not agree to the appeal being put forward is extremely important if the Scottish Government and the SQA are to meet its legal obligations to firstly not discriminate against children in terms of their education and then secondly to offer a method of redress where discrimination has occurred.”

The was put to education secretary John Swinney during a meeting of the committee yesterday who said it was “vital” pupils had routes of appeal.

He said: “We attach the greatest significance to these questions, I am familiar with the points that are raised by Dr Kirk and indeed I have discussed the issues in relation to the SQA appeals with the young people who articulate on this question.

"We are keen to address any issues that emerge out of those discussions as part of the work that we undertake.”

However, during questioning, the deputy first minister struggled to answer questions about students who were not being allowed to appeal, instead stating that an appeals process exists for those who believe they were discriminated against.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray labelled it a “new low” for Mr Swinney’s handling of the exams fiasco.

He said: “John Swinney’s shambolic handling of this year’s SQA awards hit a new low when it became clear that he does not understand the appeals procedures he has agreed.

“Pupils who believed that they were incorrectly assessed by their schools have no route of appeal, a breach of their rights, yet Mr Swinney seems to believe that they do. We can have little confidence that he is going to get this right for next year.

“We really do need a full time, competent education secretary who understands what is happening in our schools.”

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