Sturgeon promises urgent review of 124,000 downgraded exam results

By Severin Carrell

Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to tens of thousands of Scottish teenagers whose exam results were downgraded last week and promised urgent changes to their awards.

The first minister attempted to defuse a growing crisis for her government by confirming her deputy, John Swinney, would lay out proposals to regrade results in the Scottish parliament on Tuesday.

“We accept we didn’t get this right and I’m sorry for that,” Sturgeon said during her regular coronavirus media briefing. She hinted schools would not now have to put in appeals for individual pupils or individual subject awards.

The controversy blew up last week after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) downgraded 124,000 recommended awards – nearly a quarter of awards – after using computer models to decide results following the cancellation of all exams during the coronavirus lockdown.

Critics pointed out the SQA had downgraded awards recommended by teachers for pupils from the poorest 20% of areas by more than 15 points; recommendations for the best-off pupils were downgraded by just under 10 points.

With pupils in Glasgow and elsewhere staging protests, the SQA promised appeals for pupils applying for universities would be fast-tracked. It then emerged some Scottish universities had said many courses would be filled up before the SQA had ruled on those appeals.

Swinney faces a vote of no confidence on Tuesday, tabled by Scottish Labour, after insisting last week there was no evidence pupils from deprived communities had been unfairly treated.

The Daily Record disclosed on Monday that at Sturgeon’s former secondary school, Greenwood Academy in North Ayrshire, 40% of recommended awards had been downgraded.

Sturgeon had vigorously defended the process last week, saying the 20% year-on-year increase in grades recommended by teachers was not credible.

She said on Monday she had reconsidered that, and now believed her government had put too much trust in an algorithm, focusing too much on protecting the credibility of the overall system. She said other governments in the UK had taken a similar stance.

She now realised it had failed to understand the significant impact on individual teenagers, and the damage the downgrading had had on public confidence in the Scottish education system.

“That burden has not fallen equally across society,” she said. “Despite our best intentions, I do acknowledge that we did not get this right.

“I’m not prepared to have this year’s cohort of pupils, particularly from deprived communities, thinking that their hard work at school doesn’t count or the system is determined to be against them.”