124 000 Scottish students to have grades amended amidst downgrading scandal

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Deputy First Minister and education secretary, John Swinney, announces massive U-turn from Holyrood over the recent SQA grading controversy.

After calls to resign, outspoken and widespread outrage at the “postcode lottery”, and a menagerie of rightly angry student protests and activism, John Swinney has announced that more than 120 000 students will have their exam results reassessed, with downgrading overturned.

“We now accept that the risk of undermining the value of qualifications is outweighed by a concern that young people, particularly from working-class backgrounds, may lose faith in education,” Mr Swinney said.

John Swinney: ‘To the young people affected by the downgrading of awards . . . I want to say this: I am sorry’ Credit: Andy Buchanan/Reuters

Pupils whose teacher estimates were upgraded by the qualifications authorities would retain their results, Mr Swinney said.

The U-turn came as revelations continued to emerge regarding many students experiences with downgrading, alongside swathes of politicians levelling criticism at Mr Swinney’s-and subsequently the SNP’s- handling of education during the devastating halt COVID-19 has brought globally.

Pupils saw an exam free year due to COVID-19 school closures, resulting in predictive grading for students.

Mr Swinney defended the controversial grading system, which resulted in the pass rate for students in the most deprived areas seeing a reduction by 15.2% from teacher estimates after the exam board’s moderation.

Analysis by the Scottish Qualifications Authority showed pupils from deprived backgrounds were subjected to much higher rates of downgrading than areas that were ‘better off’.


However, due to duress and pressure, Mr Swinney and the SNP have now reassessed their position on the exam grading extremely quickly.

This U-turn will likely put immense pressure on the rest of the UK to follow suit as students across Britain continue to protest against harmful and perceived classist downgrading.

Mr Swinney said the government might have been too concerned with giving this year’s students an advantage over previous cohorts.

School students demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament over the downgrading of exam results. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

It is immensely clear that the task of assigning grades to students during a pandemic with aims of meritocratic fairness is a difficult path to navigate- after all, the cancellation of exams in Scotland this year is an unprecedented historical first.

However, the overt “postcode lottery” that took place cannot be justified, a position that Mr Swinney and the SNP government have now backtracked to amend.

Mr Swinney personally apologised to Scottish students for the failed system, insisting the u-turn was not an attempt to quell calls for resignation; rather a necessary amendment being acknowledged and apologised for.

“To the young people affected by the downgrading of awards . . . I want to say this: I am sorry,” he said.

“The Scottish government would ensure sufficient higher education places were available to prevent any crowding out of qualified applicants because of the improved exam results, he said.

Regardless, many Scottish students are elated at the decision that has potentially changed their entire prospects for employment or higher education pursuits.

A wonderful achievement for students taking their destiny into their own hands- a potentially explosive u-turn for the SNP regarding the upcoming 2021 election.

It’s likely the opposition will hone in on this u-turn during campaigning. However, conversely, the SNP may have just saved themselves amongst young voters by making an amendment they could not afford to leave hanging in the air.

Feature image credit: BBC

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