I HAVE some big and heartfelt issues with some of the end results of the SQA exercise in awarding grades to Nat5 and Higher/Advanced Higher students this year (Fury at SQA as most-deprived pupils’ exam results downgraded, August 5).

This has been an extraordinary year for all of us so far, and yet the SQA have responded by proceeding to sacrifice young people’s future options on the altar of statistical normality.

I have listened to and watched Fiona Robertson of the SQA over the last two days and I have seen not a shred of evidence of empathy or sympathy for this year’s exam pupils. Sadly, I have also watched John Swinney and even Nicola Sturgeon defend the choices made in order to preserve statistical niceties.

READ MORE: Fury at SQA as most-deprived pupils’ exam results downgraded

I have heard the worry that teacher-suggested grades alone, if trusted, would have made pass levels increase way beyond the norm. However, I have also read and heard that the methods that are used to secure the “norm” have no direct reference to this year’s pupils but rather to individual subject and school statistics.

If ever there was to be a good reason to abandon the fight for full control and cast aside the fearful cloak of “normality” then 2020 must surely provide it.

What on earth would be the problem with having a one-year spike in attainment levels for this year?

In particular, I note Larry Flanagan’s comment about the largest “adjustments” by the SQA having been from a Grade C to a Grade D (why is he the one to tell us what we need to know – why not the SQA or John Swinney?).

In the statistical world of the SQA and the Cabinet Secretary for Education, a Grade D is a pass. In the real world, it is a pass that serves pupils ill with respect to education progression from Nat 5 to Higher and for employment, higher education or further education as it is simply not recognised as a pass.

READ MORE: SQA results: Protest and petition launched after 'classist' grading system

For the exam results themselves, nothing can be done now. But the appeals process is starting now, and every pupil who feels properly that they have been misjudged by the SQA will be lodging an appeal.

A simple step to redeem the current position is for the SQA and the Cabinet Secretary for Education to manage and allow the appeals process to acknowledge and grant significant appeals – they will, after all, be appeals that are supported and evidenced by the schools, and believed worthy by the pupils and their parents/carers.

It is simply not acceptable for the SQA to sit on their hands and to say “all has been conducted in a statistical bubble of purity”.

Donald McGregor

THIS is no time for for fury, and those who have already started the political blame game about the exam results should be ashamed of themselves as they are only adding to the distress of pupils who feel that they have been unfairly treated.

They will only increase the dissatisfaction and disappointment of all pupils, who will naturally assume that it is their own grades that have been reduced, in spite of the fact that three-quarters of assessments were unchanged.

The pandemic situation is unprecedented, and pupils could not be left without assessments for the unfinished year.

READ MORE: Scottish exam results: Overall pass rate the highest in 14 years

This year’s results have revealed a massive discrepancy between teachers’ current expectations and examination results from previous years that needs to be thoroughly investigated.

The appeals system has always been there to sort out individual anomalies and will no doubt do so again this year.

Without modification the results would have shown impossible improvements over previous years ranging from 10% for those from most affluent areas to 20% for those from most deprived areas, with proportional increases in the intermediate bands.

Moderation is there to smooth out minor variations between examination papers over the years and differences between individual markers. This discrepancy is far beyond the normal limits of moderation and has revealed a fundamental difference in assessments between schools and the examination authority that must not be allowed to return to “normal” next year.

The SQA and schools need to get together immediately to see if they can find any reasons why there is such a large, consistent discrepancy between the two methods of assessment.

Even if this cannot undo what has been done, it might reassure pupils that they are still the most important and respected section of the Scottish education system and that a full investigation, and perhaps a restructuring of the assessment method,will follow.

John Jamieson
South Queensferry

EVERYTHING I have heard about the results from the SQA has upset and disgusted me, although fortunately no-one in my family is affected. I come from a family with numerous members involved in teaching, including myself, over a wide range of areas – academic, vocational, primary, secondary, teacher training and further education – and this kind of scenario is not unfamiliar, although this year is by far the most extreme that I have come across.

The explanation given for the down-grading of nearly a quarter of the awards is the use of moderation, a process which I and my family have ourselves had to implement at times. The intention of this process, as explained at meetings I attended with the previous exam board, is to create as nearly as possible a level playing field, so that the differing circumstances of students, as they affect their learning process, neither advantage nor disadvantage any one group.

The application of the moderation process by the SQA this year, in my view, has been exactly the opposite. They claim that they have downgraded a large number of results from schools in deprived areas, to bring them more nearly into line with the results these schools achieved last year. For me, that means that they applied this process wrongly last year too, and possibly before that. Their duty was to make allowance for those facing additional handicaps, not penalise them.

That these schools serve a deprived area means that for many, achieving a good result is more difficult than for the “average” student, and even more difficult than for those in the most affluent areas. Many of these young people go home to a house where there is no space for peaceful study, family circumstances may be chaotic, technology may be non-existent and the TV is blaring constantly. Against these odds, achieving good grades demands extra effort and dedication at school. The process of moderation is intended to weight judgments slightly in their favour to acknowledge these extra difficulties and their extra effort. But the SQA has moderated AGAINST such schools and their students.

In the more affluent areas, students normally have the advantage of parental interest and encouragement – they are the ones who regularly attend parents’ evenings – books and technology on hand and a quiet space in which to study. There is no need to moderate in favour of these students, as the handicaps to study are few or non-existent, and money can buy extra help if required. Yet some in this cohort have had results upgraded! Why?

Moreover, these decisions show a distrust of teachers, who are highly trained and know their students and their abilities thoroughly from daily contact over a long time. Do those who left the classroom long ago or never even entered it as teachers believe that they know better? What arrogance, and insult to dedicated teachers!

To my mind the SQA has turned the principle and intention of moderation on its head and, if they cannot see and accept this, they are unfit for purpose. The answer is not masses of appeals – it is apology and a complete reassessment of all the results with moderation applied the right way round.

P Davidson

IT’S a long time since I sat school exams, but you have to wonder why teachers in schools in deprived areas were apparently awarding overall 85% pass marks when it was 65% last year.

This year’s children had missed three months of lessons from these teachers. Bizarrely it would appear that, before moderation, many pupils had apparently benefited from NOT being taught by these same teachers. Would a six-month month break have resulted in a 100% pass rate?

Mass moderation seems a bit of a blunt instrument, and a more individual method of review is needed, however there is no perfect solution to this mathematical problem. Perhaps some teachers, maybe very understandably, tried to give pupils “a wee haun up”.

It would be really great to think that the attainment gap has suddenly closed, but really unhelpful to just pretend that it has. If the 85% figure was allowed to stand the government would have been accused of fiddling those figures as well.

Brian Lawson