Education secretary accused over ‘algorithm by stealth’

The Scottish Conservatives have accused the education secretary of misleading parliament.

Education secretary accused over ‘algorithm by stealth’ iStock

The Scottish Government has been accused of introducing an algorithm “by stealth” to award grades to pupils.

It comes after education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville last week pledged that grades this year will be judged by teachers, based on pupil’s schoolwork, and not based on an algorithm or on historical data.

But, the Scottish Conservatives have now highlighted an Education Scotland document published this month which states that staff will be able to “analyse provisional results against three-year or five-year trends from historical data”.

It adds that grades would be formulated based on “historic patterns and trends of attainment”.

Scottish Conservatives shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell said that the SNP and SQA are “sleepwalking into the same shambles” as last year.

“The SNP education secretary has misled parliament, parents and pupils by falsely claiming that grades will not be based on historical data,” he said.

“This document confirms that the SNP have introduced an algorithm by stealth and kept it under the radar to avoid the inevitable and justifiable outrage.

“Limiting pupils’ grades using historical data and an algorithm is deeply unfair. It wrongly punishes young people because of their postcode, background or where they went to school.

“But, the SNP and SQA are sleepwalking into the same shambles we saw last summer, only this time they’re being even more secretive. They seem to have replaced one flawed algorithm with dozens.”

He added: “The end result will be the same. The poorest children from the most deprived areas will once again be hit hardest by an SNP Government that no longer views education as a priority.

“The SNP Government and SQA’s fingerprints are all over this report. There’s no excuse for their doublespeak to keep the use of algorithms and historical data secret.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is no algorithm. The provisional grades given to learners by their teachers will – rightly – be subject to local quality assurance procedures.

“That may mean a school’s past performance is looked at within their local area to identify any cases where the provisional grades appear to be significantly out of step with past performance.

“If that happens, the provisional grades will be checked again by their teachers to make sure they are robust against the national standard.  

“However, no learner’s grades will be marked down or up because of their school’s past performance. If a learner has demonstrated they deserve as A, that’s the grade they will receive.

“Once the provisional grades have been submitted to the SQA, they will not be changed because of any school’s past performance.”

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