BRIGHT pupils living in working-class parts of Scotland have not been unfairly penalised by the country’s exam body, John Swinney has insisted.

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%.

Swinney said the pass rate for pupils in the most deprived areas was higher this year than it was last year, while the attainment gap between the wealthiest and poorest pupils had narrowed. He also encouraged aggrieved pupils to appeal their marks.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, the Education Secretary added: “What I would accept is that there will be individual results which will cause disappointment.

“That is why the final stage of the process that was put in place by the Scottish Qualifications Authority is 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.

“I would encourage any young person who feels disappointed by their results, and that they should have had a better result, to use that service”.

He said: “What the exam system has to assess is the attainment of young people against the standards which we have asked the SQA to maintain at all times.

“The crucial point about the maintenance of standards is that it would not serve young people in 2020 in any way satisfactorily if there was to be any doubt about the validity and the credibility of the qualifications that they have achieved.”

Some Glasgow schoolkids have an organised all-day peaceful protest outside the SQA’s HQ tomorrow. While more than 22,000 have now signed a petition calling on the SQA to “re-evaluate” their decisions.

Petition organiser Sarah McLauchlan said: “Pupils should get a chance to prove themselves individually.

“Results should be based off of personal performance and personal performance only.”

Nick Hobbs, head of advice and investigations at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, told The National that the system had strived to be fair but had resulted in incredible unfairness.

“The statistical approach has resulted in a set of data that privileges the appearance of fairness at a national level, over actual fairness for individuals.

“Young people aren’t looking for preferential treatment; they simply want to feel that their grade is based on a fair assessment of their own ability, not on the historic performance of the school they happen to attend. SQA and the Scottish Government must ensure that the appeals process is accessible to young people, properly resourced and fit for purpose given the weight of appeals we are expecting and the urgent need to correct for any unfairness.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, has urged the Government to hold talks with universities and colleges over “admissions criteria and deadlines”.