Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that she has full confidence in the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), despite concerns being raised over a new grading system.
The First Minister said the Scottish Government and the qualifications body are doing their “utmost” to deliver fair grades under difficult circumstances.
It comes after education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville on Wednesday announced that pupils will be able to directly appeal grades, with a symmetrical system in place, meaning that grades could be moved up, down, or stay the same.
The use of the system has been met with criticism from across parties at Holyrood, as well as other opponents, who say that it could deter pupils from making an appeal.
At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross asked the First Minister whether she has full confidence in the SQA.
“Yes, I do,” Sturgeon responded.
“On the issue of qualifications this year, I think it is important that I and the government recognise first of all that this is a really anxious and a really difficult time for pupils, and indeed, for their parents across the country.
“So, it’s really important that we, and indeed the SQA, continue to listen. We are doing our utmost to deliver fair grades in what are very difficult circumstances.
“I will try if there are further questions on this today to answer all of the questions as clearly as possible, because scrutiny and understanding is really important.
“And I’m going to try to stay away from partisan politics, not least because many of the arrangements we are putting in place are very similar to those being put in place in England and in Wales, under governments of all parties.
“I think that reflects the fact that this is a difficult situation.”
Ross said that the SNP “needs to learn from its mistakes” of last year.
“Last summer, it took a week before the SNP finally admitted that their grading system was broken and they had a U-turn,” he said.
“This year’s children shouldn’t have to go through the same issues all over again. [John] Swinney is out, Somerville is in, but it’s the same old shambles.
“This SNP government needs to learn from its mistakes, but it’s determined instead just to repeat them.”
Sturgeon told MSPs that results being downgraded for pupils is an “exceptional occurrence”.
“The downgrading of grades, and past experience shows us this, is exceptionally rare,” she said.
“So, if you take 2019, out of over 11,000 appeals, only two of them were downgraded. In 2018, 13,000 appeals, seven were downgraded.
“So, that is an exceptional occurrence, but it does ensure we have a system that from start to finish is intended to focus on the attainment, the actual attainment, of pupils.
“And of course, the appeals system should only be used in exceptional circumstances, not because we want to put pupils off using it, but because we want to get the grades right at the first time.”