Calls to ensure pupils are not let down by SQA exam process

Campaigners are urging the SQA to give pupils direct access to the appeals process rather than having to go through schools.

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Children’s rights campaigners are demanding new measures to ensure pupils are not disadvantaged by the grading process for this year’s exams. 

Around 138,000 candidates across the country are due to receive their National, Higher and Advanced Higher results on Tuesday.

Grades will be based on teacher estimates moderated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority after exams were cancelled. 

The campaigners are urging the SQA to give young people direct access to the appeals process rather than having to go through their school or college. 

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They claim there has been a lack of transparency and communication with young people as to how their grades will be decided as well as the appeals process.

Hannah Sykes, who is due to receive her Higher results, told STV News: “Obviously it would be an anxious time anyway waiting for exam results but I think there is just that added anxiety of the unknown this year.

‘Obviously it would be an anxious time anyway waiting for exam results but I think there is just that added anxiety of the unknown this year.’

Hannah Sykes, pupil due to receive Higher results

“It’s going to be quite a rush to work out how you’ve been graded, work out if you’ve got grounds for appeal to then submit an appeal, all in the week before schools go back which is going to be a busy and anxious time for students anyway.”

The SQA has said it will publish the methodology it used to moderate grades when it releases the results.

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At the same time it says it will publish its Equality Impact Assessment which is used to ensure there is no discrimination against vulnerable people.

The office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland says the SQA has not carried out a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment to understand which groups are at risk.

The CYPCS undertook its own assessment of the decision to cancel exams and found several children’s rights may been negatively affected.

It is now calling on the SQA to ensure the appeals and complaints processes are fair, transparent and directly accessible to young people.

Gina Wilson, head of strategy at the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: “We are asking for the appeals process to be directly accessible by young people. 

“At the moment they can only do that through the school or college where they sat their exams.

“This year we know that there are young people who have been disproportionately affected including those who are home schooled. 

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“We have heard of young people who have been told they will have to repeat a year next year because there is no process in place to get them a grade.

‘Human rights do not go away in a crisis. In fact when times are hardest that’s when we need to ensure they are protected and defended.’

Gina Wilson, head of strategy at Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland

“There are young people who will need to speak directly to someone about their concerns.

“Human rights do not go away in a crisis. In fact when times are hardest that’s when we need to ensure they are protected and defended.”

A group of young people formed the group ‘SQA Where’s Our Say?’ to call on the exams authority to engage with them on the alternative grading process.

The group claims the lack of any clear attempt at meaningful youth consultation goes against the Scottish Government’s commitment to children’s rights.

Its members have been supported by Dr Tracy Kirk, a lecturer in Law, Children and Adolescent Rights at Glasgow Caledonian University.

She told STV News: ”The young people at SQA Where’s Our Say? are the first to have really allowed a voice for young people to share their concerns about the SQA situation this year.

“We want open dialogue with all young people and ultimately the opportunity for them to sit an exam if they decide that they wish to do so. 

‘Nobody should be having their life opportunities affected because of the pandemic in this way if we can provide a way that prevents that.’

Dr Tracy Kirk, a lecturer in Law, Children and Adolescent Rights

“Nobody should be having their life opportunities affected because of the pandemic in this way if we can provide a way that prevents that.”

The Scottish Government has said a bill to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law would be delivered within this parliamentary session.

It added a children’s rights approach is being embedded into its response to Covid-19 and its approach to recovery and renewal.

An SQA spokesman said: “Fairness to all learners, while maintaining the integrity and credibility of our qualifications system, has been our core principle. 

“A Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment, as well as an Equalities Impact Assessment, will be published on Results Day tomorrow. 

“On 19 June we published detailed guidance and information for schools and colleges to help them prepare for appeals. It is the same every year that an appeal is made by the school or college with the candidate’s permission, and this year should be no different. 

“An appeal should only be submitted if a candidate has been awarded a lower grade than their estimate, and the teacher or lecturer has sufficient evidence to support the original estimate. Teachers and lecturers are best placed to make the decision as to whether or not to submit an appeal. 

“It is important to note that there are three possible outcomes to an appeal. A higher grade can be awarded, there could be no change to the grade, or a lower grade can be awarded.”