Michael Marra is a Dundee city councillor and a former senior adviser to the Scottish Labour leader.
The growing SQA scandal has already brought misery and injustice to many thousands of Scottish children. Yet it feels like we are only in the foothills of understanding what has happened.
You may have one of these children in your family, among friends or in your household. You may be one yourself. Well, I am deeply sorry. You have been turned into a number on a spreadsheet, you have become a data point on a marking curve, you currently reside within an algorithm. The Scottish Government now has to decide whether to defend the system or to defend the kids.
The Scottish Government now has to decide whether to defend the system or to defend the kids.”
Of course, it did not need to be like this. Ministers were warned in parliament, and in response, instead of publishing their methodology to allow scrutiny, they made warm word promises that are now dust in their mouths. How is it even really conceivable that pupils are being failed not on their own merits but on the basis of what pupils did in their school five years ago? As one pupil forecast to excel wrote to a government minister: “How did I fail an exam I never sat?”
So what do we know? Some schools in Courier Country have had up to 50% of their awards downgraded. We have a high school in Dundee predicting, in line with their improving trend, 23 As in one subject. The awards? Two As. We have another large high school predicting 55 As in a subject. One single A grade has been awarded.
How did I fail an exam I never sat?”
There are swathes of children who may never have been presented for an exam, where schools are trying hard to help them earn qualifications, predicted to achieve a C pass, downgraded to a D fail.
What is emerging is a picture where the algorithm developed behind closed doors by the SQA has spread awards away from middling and particularly from improving schools to schools with traditional high grades. Some teachers are asking ‘where did our awards go?’ That will be as revealing as who has lost out.
The First Minister and her hapless deputy – now running the Aberdeen lockdown while this scandal for which he is responsible is infecting the entire country – are asking pupils to rely on the appeals system to correct the government’s mistakes. Can it cope? Unlikely. After all, the people who handle the appeals for the SQA are Scottish teachers.
Can the appeals system cope?
They will be those teachers whose assessments the FM has said are not credible and who are opening up schools this week in unprecedented circumstances. They will be asked to deal with perhaps five times as many appeals as in a normal year. There are also technical details in the appeal system which, for instance, prevent appeals where a prelim exam mark is above the final award. The SQA have put swathes of young people in exactly that situation.
A colleague called the situation a postcode lottery. Well it’s not a lottery when you are never even given a ticket. For our poorest children it was impossible to win. For the poorest of kids in Scotland their marks were set in stone before their teachers persuaded them to try and fulfil their potential. This is a scandal. It cannot stand.
This is a scandal. It cannot stand.”