Pressure grows on John Swinney to provide answers for students without exam result appeal routes

Students left without a direct route of appeal against their exam results in 2020 are likely to have the same problem in 2021 unless the Scottish Government acts, a children’s rights academic has warned.

John Swinney will appear at the education committee this week
John Swinney will appear at the education committee this week

Pressure is growing on the education secretary John Swinney to act on warnings that those from protected and vulnerable groups were “ignored” by the appeals process set up after the Scottish Government U-turned on it’s controversial algorithm based moderation system.

The u-turn led to all grades being awarded on teacher estimates, but Dr Tracy Kirk, who has worked with youth-led campaign group SQA Where’s Our Say and is a children’s rights academic at Glasgow University, warned the lack of a direct appeals system disproportionately impacted those with extenuating circumstances.

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She said care leavers, children with learning disabilities, young carers, and those who may have suffered a bereavement or illness, did not have a suitable way to challenge their teacher estimates.

Mr Swinney has said the system in place – where students must agree with their school that they have been unfairly targeted or discriminated against in order to submit an appeal – is sufficient to solve any issues.

The new pressure on the Deputy First Minister is ahead of his appearance in front of Holyrood’s education committee next week.

Referencing the independent review of the exam results fiasco undertaken by Professor Mark Priestley and commissioned by the Scottish Government which highlighted the significant “controversy” caused by the lack of appeal, Dr Kirk said Mr Swinney must take action now to fix the problems of 2020 and avoid them recurring in 2021.

She said: “On 7 October, the Deputy First Minister stood up in parliament and admitted that the Scottish Government had not got it right for all young people. However, he stated that they had listened and acted to fix the situation.

“However, this is not the case for all students. These young people need the right to redress that they are legally entitled to.

"To continue to ignore this group compounds the discrimination they suffered during the 2020 SQA processes and undermines the commitment to the rights and wellbeing of all children which the Scottish Government are usually very passionate about.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is for the SQA to design the appeals system. This year - as in previous years – it was for centres, not individuals, to lodge appeals.

“This year’s SQA results were awarded based on teacher and lecturer assessments, or SQA moderated teacher and lecturer estimates where these were higher. Guidance for teachers and lecturers making estimates instructed them to take a holistic approach which should factor in any illness, or other personal circumstances impacting on performance, during prelims or at any other time.

“Any pupil who believed their school or college was being unfair by not lodging an appeal on their behalf would have recourse to the school or college and local authority complaints procedures.

“In light of the Priestley Review, we have asked SQA to review their appeals system from 2021 to ensure it best meets the needs of young people in line with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that this should be carried out by working closely with key stakeholders including learners and their representative groups.”

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