Nicola Sturgeon insists that the appeals process has not “ignored” young people’s extenuating circumstances following backlash over the new exam replacement system.
With exams cancelled for another year due to the coronavirus pandemic, teachers will have to submit grade estimates based on “demonstrated attainment”.
The Scottish Qualification Authority’s (SQA) appeal process for challenging grades was announced by education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville on Wednesday, but it does not allow for extenuating circumstances to be taken into account when awarding grades.
The only allowance is for impacted pupils to have an extension to produce work that will be assessed.
Pupils will be able to appeal directly to the SQA if they disagree with a grade based on any suspected administrative error, or on the grounds that the Equality Act was breached.
But, according to the SQA’s guidance, any appeal “must also be based on the evidence of the learner’s demonstrated attainment” rather than any additional submissions.
Pupils grades could also go down as well as up, as a result of a challenge.
Speaking about the appeals process at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday, the First Minister argued that the system “caters for the exceptional circumstances, for example somebody being bereaved during the period they were doing the assessments”.
She said: “It’s not that we’ve ignored that and the SQA have ignored that eventuality, it has been catered for in a different part of the process.
“So instead of saying that somebody in that position should rely on an appeal, what has been done is that if there is somebody who has exceptional circumstances during the assessment period, then there is an extension to that period.”
Commenting on the “symmetrical system” where grades can be revised downwards as well as up despite widespread calls for a no-detriment policy, Sturgeon added: “That’s the only way to make sure that it is genuinely the attainment of the young person that is being looked at.
“But a grade being downgraded will be exceptionally rare.”
Asked about comments from Cameron Garrett, the only young representative on a group charged with creating an alternative to exams that pupils have been “let down and ignored”, Sturgeon said: “If that’s how he feels, then it’s not for me to say he’s wrong.
“But I want to seek to work to change those views.”
She added: “We will continue to listen and listen carefully. But I don’t want anybody thinking that these are things that are not being very, very carefully thought about and considered at this stage.
“Lessons have been learned from last year, there’s no algorithms, there’s no statistical modelling, there’s no taking account of the historic performance of a school in the grades of young people.
“It’s all about the judgement a teacher makes, informed by the work that a young person has actually done.”
Garrett, who serves as a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, wrote on Twitter: “As the only young person who sits on [the SQA’s] NQ21 group and the only member representing young people, I have not had an equal input into discussions around the appeals process this year at NQ group meetings.
“Young people have been let down and ignored by this process.”
He added: “Young people deserve fairness this year and should be able to have confidence in the system. Neither is currently true.”
Scottish Youth Parliament vice chairman, Liam Fowley, said the process was “not fit for purpose”, adding: “It’s another example of young people being an afterthought.
“We’ve been tirelessly representing young people’s views and experiences for months – only for it to be ignored by the SQA.
“Young people have been let down.”
An SQA spokesman said: “We have listened to the views of young people in developing this year’s appeals service.
“For the first time, young people have a free and direct right of appeal on a broad range of grounds.
“Representatives from the Scottish Youth Parliament have been at every meeting of the NQ Group 2021 over the last six months.
“The Scottish Youth Parliament also runs our Learner Panel, which gathers the views of learners from across Scotland.
“All communication from the NQ Group 2021, including those directly for learners, are agreed with the Scottish Youth Parliament and they have been instrumental in the communications from the NQ Group to learners.”