Parents ‘feel excluded’ from SQA process for deciding grades

The exams authority has said it will not consult schools or colleges if it downgrades teacher estimates.

Parents say they feel excluded and anxious about their children’s results after the exams authority announced it would not consult schools about downgrading estimates.

Grades this year will be based on teacher estimates using prelims and coursework after the exams were cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority will also consider the previous performance of the school.

However, it has said it will not contact schools or colleges if previous attainment leads to changes to teacher estimates.

The SQA has also refused to publish the details of its moderation processes until after the results are published on August 4.

Amy Fulford has two sons waiting for results for Nat 5s and Highers.

She said: “Will they go on their prelim grades? I’m hoping they actually look at the target grade, look at the school year work, look at the way the child works.

“Most parents know that on the whole children do better in the main exam.

“It could be very hard next year to keep momentum to do something you failed because of the way the grades are given.”

There are fears the system could lead to high-performing pupils from poorer areas being penalised.

Eilieen Prior, executive director at parents group Connect, said: “There is research out there that says they will often get what could be classed as surprising results in the final exams compared to their coursework.

“Parents feel quite excluded from the process and anxious for their young people who have been having a rough time.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the teaching union the EIS, said: “I think the SQA hasn’t been as open as teachers would have liked them to have been around the whole process.

“There is an element of suspicion around this, and certainly if professional judgement is overturned I think that will undermine the trust between teachers and the SQA.

“That trust is critical to next year because who knows what we’ll be facing next year and again we might have to have an arrangement whereby we are trusting the professional judgement of teachers.”

Holyrood’s education committee has also been seeking clarity from the SQA.

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said: “This has just been another example of the arrogant culture that permeates the SQA.

“They are not interested in engaging honestly, certainly not with teachers. They have not been transparent with the education committee of the parliament.

“They won’t release the details of what they are doing, but they also won’t even commit to publishing the equality impact assessment that they are legally required to do until after the results have been released.”

A spokesperson for the SQA said fairness is at the heart of its approach.

“We have published guidance and information on our approach to certification this year.  Further information will be provided on August 4,” the spokesperson said.   

“We considered the matter of dialogue with schools and colleges very carefully, including further discussions with our board, and have concluded that it will not be possible to include this engagement within the moderation process.  

“There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the difficulty of operating a dialogue which is fair and consistent in its treatment of all centres and candidates.

“Secondly, it is just not possible to enter into a dialogue in the very tight timescales we are working to – reviewing 22,000 datasets across 142 subjects from almost 500 centres – between the receipt of estimates and finalisation of grades which, for awarding purposes, are required by July 10.

“Our appeals (post-certification review) process will provide for further, evidence-based consideration of grades if schools and colleges do not think awarded grades fairly reflect learner performance.”

Analysis: Failure to be transparent risks breaking trust

Exam results day is one that sticks in the mind for most of us, for good or ill.

For those counting the days until August 4, there are added layers of complication and stress.

Despite the requests of MSPs, unions and teachers’ leaders, the SQA has continued to refuse to publish the methodology it will use to moderate grades.

Its critics say that is because it would show the system is going to penalise pupils in deprived communities.

The exams authority argues that is simply not the case.

The SQA also points out the appeals process will give schools and colleges the chance to put the case for those who feel harshly treated.

However, the failure to be more transparent throughout this process has undoubtedly increased suspicion and anxiety among teachers and parents.

Consulting schools about any downgrading of estimates would have been a powerful statement the authoity does value the judgement of teachers.

As it stands, the start of the new term is likely to see a lot of time spent on appeals and course reconsiderations, on top of the need to adjust to new guidelines on protecting everyone’s safety.

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