Professor Lindsay Paterson is professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh.

TO be honest I have sympathy here for the Government. Obviously in a political situation the government gets blamed but I don’t really think that it is John Swinney’s or Nicola Sturgeon’s fault here. Politicians can’t be seen to be interfering in examining. That would not be acceptable.

The SQA was repeatedly asked to publish its methods and repeatedly refused. They also promised to have an individual discussion with schools when they were planning to downgrade a student’s grade and they then changed their mind on that promise.

They had indicated in more vague terms that amongst the factors to be taken into account was the school’s previous record but they did not say how that was going to be done and they said other things would be taken into account as well.
What they could have done is said back in June that teachers should submit the evidence they would have to submit if they had to make an appeal.

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That is the kind of evidence that the teachers are now having to compile. That could have been asked for back in June which would have pre-empted some of the appeals now underway.

Once it was accepted they had to cancel the exams – and I’m not entirely convinced of that as they were not cancelled in Germany – they could have continued to take in the course work which is part of most school subjects now. That was being submitted in the usual way last year and then it was just stopped in early April. They should have kept on taking that in and they could have marked it. 

What matters now is getting some kind of adequate response to all these young people that have been affected.

It’s not perfect. It is not as good as the exam, but at least it is some kind of objective evidence that could have been used to help make this process better, but they never explained why they stopped taking in course work, nor did they explain why they were unwilling to mark the course work that had already been submitted.

Again that problem was pointed out to them repeatedly, especially by the cross-party education committee. They were unanimous asking for these things, asking about moderation and appeals. They kept on pressing and as recently as June 20 the education committee wrote to the SQA asking for further evidence about the moderation modelling they would use but the SQA refused.

Politicians have been trying very hard in a non-partisan way. I don’t think at all that the blame here lies with any politician or the Scottish Government – it lies with the SQA itself.

The system the SQA used is very unfair and arbitrary. Nicola Sturgeon was right to say that a rise of pass rate of 20% would have damaged the credibility of the system but the point is that is not the problem. It is the crudity by which it was dealt with. It is the fact that students were constrained to look like previous students in the schools they attended and that is not fair.

It is not fair in two directions – most of the focus has been on students in lower attainment schools whose results have been pulled down but there are also the students unfairly given high grades because they happened to attend schools with higher previous performance. 

I suspect that benefits independent schools so there is quite a lot of unfairness that has not yet been exposed.

What matters now is getting some kind of adequate response to all these young people that have been affected.

The issue is trying to reassure everyone, the young people but also universities, colleges and employers and so on, that the results this year will be as valid and reliable and fair as they would be in a normal year. The best way of doing that is to make the appeals process as close to the normal process of marking as is normally the case.

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 Once the immediate crisis is past, we really need to return again to how we monitor our quangos, our public bodies. 

They behave in such an irresponsible way. They capture the policy process, they control the debate, they refuse to expose their workings to anyone outside the system. That just is not democratic at all.

Some of the arrogant ways in which these elected politicians are treated by these unelected officials is really quite indefensible.

Professor Murray Pittock  is pro-vice principal of Glasgow University.

THE SQA operated its normal procedures as far as it could so I don’t think this is technically a matter for the Scottish Government directly. It was always possible to double-check what the outcome was looking like but the trouble is that the top line numbers looked fine. It looked like an increase in the pass rate. It is the detail that is the problem.

In the big picture the SQA have done what they always do but because there is so much data missing and the estimates were so high, that doesn’t mean that there were not individual injustices or collective injustices, perhaps in the case of a very good year group in the system.

The methodology is complicated and it is a consistent type of methodology that has been used by a lot of exam boards for many years. Moderation is most reliable with large cohorts to ensure that pass rates don't vary widely from year to year. They have been scaling grades down in exams for many, many years – that is just the way in which moderation works – and if, for example, the SQA had accepted all the estimated marks at Higher, the pass rate would have gone up from 75% to 89% and it went up from 75% to 79%.

The difficulty is, of course, if you know what those estimates were and you feel you had done your best and you didn’t get an exam and the estimates are really downgraded then you will be very disappointed. 

It is about the disappointment that individuals feel and is not really about the system. The system didn’t change as far as I am aware. It was what it always was, with as much flexibility as they could build into it.

There will be a very well populated appeals process I should think. I guess there will be a liberal positive response to the appeals. There is a case for regarding this as an exceptional year because of the disadvantage that people have suffered.

We must also remember that for people from deprived backgrounds, school is an equaliser. 

It is not a perfect equaliser but sometimes people get a better and more comparable experience at school than they will necessarily get at home and the social divisions have been exacerbated by people being confined to their houses.
In general terms I am sure higher education institutions will be sympathetic and they themselves are in a situation where they are uncertain about student numbers. I think people will may very well get opportunities and will be viewed sympathetically.

However, all the SQA can do now is deal with the appeals process and hopefully get a conventional diet in 2021.

 I don’t think it is a time to race to change any methodologies that have been in place in the same form in different boards for many years.

 The early indications are that the English results will also show a depression of the grades from school estimates.

ALEX Neil, SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts and member of Holyrood’s Education Committee.

CALDERHEAD High School pupils in Shotts seems to have been the main victim of this in my constituency, although there are pupils in other schools throughout Airdrie and Shotts who have had cause to complain.

Clearly the SQA’s grading system has been unfair and flawed.

Particularly worrying is where there have been school students in 4th, 5th and 6th years downgraded to the extent that they have lost a place at college or university or to enrol on an apprenticeship or training course. 

As a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee, I am urging the SQA to learn the lessons of its downgrading fiasco and ensure that the appeals system is much fitter for purpose than its grading system has turned out to be.

Clearly the SQA’s grading system has been unfair and flawed. In particular, it is biased against schools in deprived neighbourhoods. We must now get a guarantee that the appeals will be based solely on the performance of each pupil and not influenced by the past performance of their school. If the SQA is not prepared to provide these guarantees, then the Scottish Parliament will have to do so.

Raymond Soltysek is national coordinator, Scottish Association for the Teaching of English:

I UNDERSTAND the anger there is at the moment. I think this is the inevitable result of trying to run a flawed system without that flawed system’s most important cog. 

This has happened after we tried to run an exam system without having exams. It’s a learning moment, not a moment for politician or civil servant bashing.

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Every year teachers say they have to adjust the pass mark without understanding the importance of that and parents put their child’s results down to what they did on the day. But you can get 70% in an exam and fail because everyone else got 71%. It’s not about what you do, it’s about what everyone else does, and it’s only when we get a situation like this that alarm bells start ringing.

If policymakers bite the bullet and honestly try to envisage different forms, I’d like to see real questions asked about how we use teachers’ estimates, how the process we have disadvantages children from disadvantaged groups, I’d like to see a Holyrood enquiry to investigate real alternatives.

The curriculum and the exam system favours people from middle class backgrounds, and it does that to produce a middle class academic response. Intelligence is not class-specific. The disadvantaged classes are not less intelligent than the wealthier classes. We need to ask ourselves who are we failing and why are we failing them.