Call for rest of UK to follow Scotland and scrap moderated grades

Scottish government says all downgraded Scottish Highers results will be withdrawn, prompting campaigns for same approach on A levels

August 11, 2020
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The rest of the UK has been urged to scrap moderated A-level grades after Scotland announced that pupils whose Scottish Highers results were downgraded are to receive new grades based solely on teacher estimates.

The Scottish government announced on 11 August that where a teacher estimate was adjusted down by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), candidates will receive the grade the teacher awarded, while candidates whose entries were adjusted up by the SQA will retain the higher grade.

It added that the SQA would inform schools of the revised results by 21 August and said the SQA would provide new grades to Ucas and other college and university admission bodies. The government said it would ensure that there were enough places at colleges and universities so that “all places awarded to young people can be taken up”.

Deputy first minister John Swinney apologised to the 75,000 students whose estimated mark had been reduced by the SQA, adding that downgraded awards might lead to young people, particularly those from working-class backgrounds, “los[ing] faith in education” and “form[ing] the view that no matter how hard you work, the system is against you”.

The SQA moderation system adjusted marks down to bring them closer in line with scores handed out by schools in previous years.

But there was anger when it emerged that the Higher pass rate for pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds had been cut by 15.2 percentage points, while the rate for the wealthiest pupils had been reduced by only 6.9 percentage points.

“To resolve this issue, all downgraded awards will be withdrawn. I am directing the SQA to reissue those awards based solely on teacher or lecturer judgement,” Mr Swinney said.

The Scottish government had previously said that moderation was necessary to protect the credibility of the Highers by keeping the pass rate in line with previous years.

The National Union of Students and the University and College Union led calls for the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s lead by scrapping moderated A-level grades.

NUS president Larissa Kennedy said “this temporary measure must be taken to avoid a situation in which thousands of students do not receive the grades they deserve because of where they live”.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady added that the U-turn and the apology from Mr Swinney were “welcome, and the rest of the UK must now ensure that no student misses out because of a flawed system of awarding marks”.

“Allowing algorithms to downgrade marks and hold students back was wrong. Many students’ life chances could still be damaged because of a clearly faulty system,” she added.

The Scottish government has asked Mark Priestley, professor of education at the University of Stirling, to conduct an independent review of the events following the cancellation of exams and to make recommendations for the coming year.

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