Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has announced Scottish pupils will have the right to directly appeal grades given out this year, as criticism of the process continued.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, official exams were cancelled for a second straight year, and replaced with a system of teacher grading.
As a result, pupils will be given the chance to appeal to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) directly, breaking with the usual process of schools submitting appeals on their behalf.
Speaking in Holyrood, the new Education Secretary said pupils could appeal based on disagreement with the grade given, allegations of administrative error or on the grounds that the Equality Act was breached.
In an effort to speed up the process, pupils will be able to register their desire for an appeal from the end of this month, when they are provided with their provisional grades, while priority will be given to those whose qualifications are needed to confirm university or college places.
The Scottish Greens have called for a “no detriment” policy, meaning that those appealing could not see their grades marked down as has been the case in other years, but this was rejected by the SQA and the Scottish Government.
Ms Somerville told MSPs: “I recognise that some stakeholders are not supportive of this position and would seek an approach where grades cannot go down.
“While I am fully sympathetic to the position of learners this year, awards must, ultimately, be based on the actual attainment of pupils.
“That means that the subject specialist looking at an appeal must be able to give their true judgement on a pupil’s attainment, moving the grade in line with the evidence.
“In this way, the appeals system will be fair, consistent and credible.
“Without symmetry, there would not be a full and fair review of the evidence.”
But Green education spokesman, Ross Greer, said this would leave pupils with a “perverse gamble” to take.
“Schools will submit the strongest evidence they have in support of the initial grade – why would they have stronger evidence, suitable for an appeal but which they chose not to submit in the first place?” he said.
“It seems the risk of downgrading is increased by an appeals process reliant purely on limited and likely weaker evidence, rather than on the professional judgment of teachers.”
The qualifications process has been under constant scrutiny in recent months, with reports surfacing of pupils being forced to sit in-class assessments – dubbed “exams in all but name” – despite the cancellations.
This has also led to the rise of SQA approved papers used in these assessments being shared among pupils online.
Tory education spokesman, Oliver Mundell, accused the Scottish Government of betraying Scotland’s youth.
“Last year’s exam chaos was unacceptable, but the failure to learn lessons is unforgivable,” he said.
“For us to be in a worse position than this time last year is a betrayal of our young people.
“We have seen inconsistent approaches school to school – never mind local authority to local authority – confusion over what counts as evidence of attainment, pupils being told exams were cancelled then facing exams in all but name.”
Ms Somerville replied: “I appreciate there will be different grounds where people will like or dislike parts of this statement but I think it’s unfair… on the other stakeholders who have worked on the National Qualifications 2021 group (which devised the new model) to say this is a failure.”
She also announced a planned date for the release of part of a controversial report into Scotland’s education system.
Former education secretary, John Swinney, announced last year that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) would be called in to assess the country’s education system.
What started as a study of the controversial Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) eventually saw the entirety of Scotland’s exam system put under the spotlight.
The initial report into CfE, Ms Somerville said, would be published on June 21, while the study of exams would come in the early autumn.