THE deputy leader of SNP-run Glasgow City Council has apologised to young people from deprived areas in the city who, he said, had been marked down in their exam results because of their postcode. 

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the Scottish Government have come in for fierce criticism for the secretive system used to grade this year’s Highers and National 5s.

With the coronavirus crisis forcing the cancellation of Scotland’s exams the first time in 130 years, pupils’ grades were instead based on the judgments of their teachers.

However, all of those predicted marks had to be vetted by the SQA’s national system of “moderation”.

The body said this process – the detail of which was kept under wraps until yesterday – was put in place to maintain “standards and credibility”.

Controversially, the exams body did this in part by looking at each school’s previous history of results.

Overall, around 133,000 entries were adjusted from the initial estimate, around a quarter of all entries – 6.9% of those estimates were adjusted up and 93.1% were adjusted down, with 96% of all adjusted grades changed by one grade.

An equality impact assessment of the results released by the SQA showed that those students in the lowest percentile of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation – students in Scotland’s most deprived areas – had their Higher pass rate reduced by 15.2%. However, students in the least deprived areas only had their rate reduced by just 6.9%.

In a series of tweets, David McDonald apologised to young people for being let down by the system.

He tweeted: “Overwhelming sense of frustration at the individual impact on my young constituents facing potential reduction of grades and opportunities based on their postcode rather than abilities. 

“So what next?

“We need a genuine debate on what exams are for and how we evaluate & assess learning.

“As a ComEd graduate, I'd argue it’s time to move on from a traditional system that measures an 'on the day' performance to a more formative assessment, able to measure growth, not just grades.

“Young people deserve a system focused on individual need and strengths. But that feels a long way off today. Students now need an appeals process that’s fair and that delivers on the calls made by [Children and Young Person Commissioner Scotland] to take account of the discrimination facing young people from poorer backgrounds

“Lastly, to the young people impacted I'm sorry the system has let you down. Please speak to your school and teachers, appeal and fight for a fairer reflection of YOUR abilities. Good luck”.

He’s not the only SNP politician to criticise the system.

MP Mhairi Black said she was “deeply concerned” by the moderation “which shows students from deprived areas saw their results reduced from their predicted grades at a higher rate than those who come from wealthier areas."

"The Scottish Government must address this,” she said

Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny tweeted: ”A kid not attaining as well in a more affluent school gets lifted, a bright kid in a school in a more deprived area gets shafted. More support needed.”

Swinney was asked about the comments during an interview with the BBC's Good Morning Scotland. The Education Secretary said the data didn't bear that out .

"In the most deprived communities, young people last year had a pass rate of 65.3%, that increased by 4.6% to 69.9%.

"In the least deprived backgrounds, young people had a pass rate of 81.7% last year and it increased by 2.9% to 84.6%.

"That shows a larger increase amongst young people in more deprived backgrounds.

He added that the pass rate at National 5, Higher and Advanced higher all increased and that three out of every four estimates put forward by teachers were "sustained" by the SQA.

"What I would accept is that there will be individual results which will cause disappointment.

"That's why the final stage of the process was put in place by the SQA - an open appeals process, a free appeals process, which enables young people in consultation with their schools to come forward with evidence which would challenge some of the judgements that have been made.

"That remains open to young people and I would encourage any young person who feels disappointed by the result, who feels they should have had a better result, to use that service which is available to them."