Such a controversy! The Scottish Government battered into an apology and total backdown – and quite rightly too. If the reason many students’ grades were lowered was truly their post code, it is not surprising that the powers that be are humiliated. The First Minister admitted that ‘serious errors were made’.

A total of 133,762 individual results were adjusted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) from the 511,070 initial estimates of grades that were submitted by teachers. Only 9,198 of the estimates were adjusted up. 124,564 were adjusted down. Almost all (96%) were adjusted by a whole grade. Fewer than 10,000 were raised.

The SQA felt that many teachers had been too generous in their estimates of grades.

One of the factors the SQA decided to use to decide whether a grade should be changed is the performance of the school over the previous four years. This was potentially a life-changing decision for a significant number of students. Students who had consistently achieved highly in school found their grades reduced to reflect their school’s previous performance rather than their own abilities.

Of particular concern was the disproportionate effect on students living in areas of economic disadvantage as SQA were influenced by their historical evidence that the poorer the area the less well students performed. In the most deprived areas, moderators reduced results sufficiently that the proportion of students getting A to C grades fell by 15 percentage points compared to the schools’ teacher estimates. In the most affluent areas, the drop was only by 7 points.

Nicola Sturgeon claimed, initially, that this step had been necessary to make the results credible, and that without this moderation system 85% of students in the most deprived areas would have passed Highers this years, as opposed to 65% in previous years.

My only comment would be, that this flattening of results through so called ‘moderation’ has gone on for many years. Without annual ‘flattening’ of scores to reflect history, perhaps a steady rise towards 85% might have been seen? We shall never know. However, hopefully, one good outcome of this tragic pandemic could be a proper re-examination and reform of the marking of our examination systems.

My own experience in education led to my underperforming in term time throughout school, yet mainly performing well in examinations. Had I been a student of the pandemic, I might never have been admitted to the profession of education. More on this in my next blog, following the release of the English results.

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