The National:

THE past few days have seen a row over the way the SQA has awarded grades to school pupils who missed exams due to the coronavirus. Grades were determined by teacher estimates, which were then moderated using a methodology based on the historical performance of schools.

A quarter of teacher estimates were adjusted, almost all downwards. Though results showed a further narrowing of the attainment gap between pupils from the most affluent and the most deprived areas, the methodology had a disproportionate impact on pupils from Scotland’s most deprived communities. As a councillor representing one of those communities, this concerns me.

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

Before going further, I’d like to tell you a wee story about a young woman from a background which was anything but affluent, with English as her second language. She was determined to become a doctor and did so well in her exams that she received an unconditional offer for medical school. There was a problem with her paperwork, which was how I became involved, but thankfully the university was sympathetic and my constituent was able to start her studies. I have no doubt she will be a fantastic doctor and an asset to this country.

Both John Swinney and the SQA have questions to answer. I want to hear those questions asked and I want to hear them answered

I tell this story to show that you can’t judge young people by their backgrounds. On paper, someone who had never met her would not have expected this young woman to ace her exams and get into medical school. But she did. I am troubled by grades awarded on the basis of anything other than an individual’s capabilities. I also want assurances that the SQA has fully considered the significant investment that has been made to raise attainment in Glasgow schools, from both the Scottish Government and the council.

There is a free appeal process to support young people who feel they have been graded unfairly - and I encourage pupils to use it. Glasgow schools and staff stand ready to support any young person and their families through this process. We will work with educational experts to do all we can to ensure no Glasgow pupil is disadvantaged.

This is hugely complex. Of course we must consider the credibility of awards made in these circumstances – any dubiety would also affect young people. But, for me, both John Swinney and the SQA have questions to answer. I want to hear those questions asked and I want to hear them answered. I want MSPs to work together, and with the Scottish Government, to see if steps can be taken to address any detriment experienced by young people living in the kind of area that I represent.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour call for John Swinney to resign over exam results

This is why I am angered by political game-playing by Labour and the Tories. Announcing a motion of no confidence in John Swinney, before the Scottish Parliament has discussed this matter, is a gimmick. John Swinney is scheduled to make a statement to Parliament this week, giving MSPs the opportunity to interrogate him. The head of the SQA is also scheduled to appear before committee to be questioned. This should be allowed to happen before a motion of no confidence is even considered.

Labour and the Tories have made John Swinney’s future the focus of attention, rather than the situation of the young people affected by this

To reach a conclusion before interrogating the evidence is not a serious approach to such a serious matter. Announcing a motion of no confidence, before the subject of that motion has been given any opportunity to make a statement, is a procedural nonsense which disrespects the role of MSPs. That sequence of events would not really be acceptable in a golf club, never mind our national parliament.

For those who think it a clever wheeze – consider this. By treating this as a political showdown, Labour and the Tories have made John Swinney’s future the focus of attention, rather than the situation of the young people affected by this. By turning tribal, they have narrowed the space for debate and discussion rather than widening it. Their action will not help a single young person.

READ MORE: Scotland SQA exam results day: How to appeal

And it already seems clear that pupils in England (under the Tories) and in Wales (under Labour) face the same situation as pupils in Scotland. This appears to be very much a UK-wide issue, rather than simply a Scottish one, which makes the position of UK parties in Scotland somewhat ridiculous.

I wish there was an easy solution to this but I don’t think there is. In such difficult circumstances, people look to the Scottish Parliament to ask the right questions, and to identify actions that could be taken to address concerns. But by turning this into a political football, Labour and the Tories have made that less likely. They should try to do better, for everyone’s sake. It’s not too late.