Thousands of pupils across Scotland are receiving their official grades on Tuesday, with final marks determined by teachers following a second year of disruption cause by the coronavirus pandemic.
Marks have been based on a range of assessments taken throughout the year by National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher students.
Letters from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) started arriving in the post on Tuesday morning, with emails and texts being sent out from 8am.
Students have known their individual grades since the end of June, due to the use of an alternative grading model focused more heavily on teacher judgement backed up by assessment.
The change in model comes after the SQA’s controversial moderation process was withdrawn and replaced by teachers’ estimates in 2020.
Following the cancellation of this year’s exam diet, the Scottish Government and SQA implemented a new system, this time without an algorithm and with more of a focus on teacher estimates.
Pupils will also be able to appeal directly to the SQA if they believe their grades are unwarranted, following an announcement in June from new education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.
But pupils, teachers and parents sought to raise the alarm about the new system throughout the spring, claiming that, in order to produce the required evidence, exam-style assessments had to be held, despite the cancellation of the diet.
Somerville said: “It’s been one of the toughest academic years we’ve ever known, with the pandemic throwing significant challenges at our young people.
“Learners can be confident that their awards are fair, consistent and credible. Indeed, industry representatives have made it clear how much they value this year’s qualifications.”
Earlier this year, it was announced the SQA is set to be scrapped after the agency received criticism over the results algorithm used to hand out exam grades during the early stages of the pandemic.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that having the education inspectorate part of the same organisation responsible for policy design and support was an “unusual configuration”.
The Scottish Government is due to make a decision later this month on whether the 2022 exams will go ahead.
Deputy first minister John Swinney, then education secretary, apologised to students for last year’s SQA moderation system and confirmed thousands of pupils who had marks downgraded would have them replaced by the estimates.
A new system – known as the Alternative Certification Model – was introduced, which sees teachers gathering evidence throughout the school year and using that to support the grades they submit to the SQA.
But the Scottish Conservatives say pupils in councils across Scotland have been marked more harshly than in 2020.
“These back-to-back years of chaos are the strongest argument in favour of retaining and restoring traditional Scottish exams. The deep unfairness young people have suffered cannot become an annual event.”Oliver Mundell, Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary
Shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell said: “A reduction in pass rates across the board compared to 2020 is another clear indicator that ‘teacher judgement alone’ did not decide grades, as the SNP insisted.
“What happened in reality is not what young people were promised. They did sit exams and teachers have not decided grades entirely on their own.
“This early release of results strongly suggests that the SNP have used historical data to knock down grades. It looks like this year’s system is just as unfair and flawed as last year.
“Pupils seem to have faced a postcode lottery. We warned this could happen when it became clear that young people would be sitting exams under inconsistent conditions, with wide variations in difficulty from council-to-council and even school-to-school.
“These back-to-back years of chaos are the strongest argument in favour of retaining and restoring traditional Scottish exams. The deep unfairness young people have suffered cannot become an annual event.”
Somerville has announced plans to mount a review of the SQA and Education Scotland. She told Scotland Tonight in June that teachers will have the “final and ultimate” say on what grades pupils will receive this year.
The country’s largest teaching union, however, has said Scotland’s exam body should be replaced, not reformed.
“The EIS has long been concerned regarding the lack of accountability of the Scottish Qualifications Authority to the teaching profession and the over-emphasis placed on annual high-stakes exams at the expense of continuous assessment.”Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary for education equality at EIS
Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary for education equality at EIS, said: “Scotland’s teachers and students deserve to be recognised for their immense efforts over the past year, in the face of extremely difficult circumstances amidst the pandemic.
“The decision to halt exams and to introduce the Alternative Certification Model would always have brought challenges but the unforeseen post-Christmas lockdown and period of school closure which lasted three months inevitably placed a great deal of heightened pressure on all concerned.
“Looking ahead to the future, it is important that we learn lessons from the experience of the pandemic as Scotland’s qualifications system is reformed and the agency responsible for it is replaced.
“The EIS believes that now is an appropriate time to consider the future shape of learning and assessment in the senior phase, alternative models of timetabling and the timing of qualifications to better serve the needs of Scotland’s learners, as part of the process around replacing the SQA.”
The Children’s Commissioner said Scotland should celebrate everything that young people have achieved in the past two years of living through a pandemic
Bruce Adamson said: “We should rightly celebrate young people’s achievements particularly when they have worked hard to achieve these results, despite the impact on their right to an education and disruption to SQA exams and assessments over two academic years.”
“We should use this opportunity to celebrate everything else they have achieved during the global pandemic too. Children and young people have been incredible. The right to education is about ensuring that they develop their minds, body, and talents to their fullest potential and the resilience, strength and courage that young people have demonstrated these past two years deserves the highest accolade.”
“The fact that the head of the SQA didn’t see fit to apologise for last year’s results shambles suggests that few lessons have been learned.”Beatrice Wishart, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson
But Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said she was concerned that some pupils won’t get the results they deserve.
She said: “The fact that the head of the SQA didn’t see fit to apologise for last year’s results shambles suggests that few lessons have been learned.
“Pupils were forced into exams in all but name, sitting as many as 40 assessments in 8 weeks, crammed in with little notice. The SQA shifted workloads onto teachers and gave them precious little leeway to recognise that some of their students had missed months of education due to repeated stints in isolation or disruption at home.
“Scotland’s young people have suffered immense upheaval over the last 18 months. As schools prepare to go back, we must ensure that extra support is available for those who have missed out from the lack of in-person teaching.
“Scotland still has thousands more teachers who are desperate to help but who are stuck on short-term contracts, zero-hours contracts or don’t have any worked lined up at all. In the circumstances no qualified teacher should be unemployed or underemployed. The government has the power to end this with permanent money for permanent positions.”