IT seems that the SQA were asked, in response to the pandemic, to estimate the results pupils would have received if they had sat their exams. And they did just that, more or less.

What many do not seem to have realised is that our traditional grading has been essentially by means of competitive exams. Candidates were ranked according to their performance scores and then allocated into predetermined grade cohorts. This gives an advantage to students who are offered intensive exam coaching and encouragement with homework, smaller class sizes etc.

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Teachers have assessed their students, on the basis of potential ability to grasp the subject, without any competitive ranking. There would also have been less significance given to performance under great pressure.

The SQA assessment attempted to replicate the non-existent exam results, including the competition and socio-economic elements. Then the SQA openly published their methodology and its outcome, which laid bare the disadvantage that under-resourced students suffer.

Mr Swinney’s announcement on Tuesday means that a 2020 cohort will enter higher education. We have been told that their progress will be monitored.

It will be interesting to see if this results in the high drop-out rates that have been traditional in many European universities.

The other question is whether we should return to quasi-competitive exams, or switch to giving everyone the grade that they earn. I imagine this would demand more rigour in setting and marking as there would not be the present recourse to adjusting the figures to achieve expected results. Perhaps the finer grading used in this year’s calculations should also be kept. We may also need to enable all considered work to be done at school without recourse to homework.

Perhaps a large part of the “attainment gap” is in fact an “assessment gap”.

Ray H
via email

JOHN Swinney and the SNP are apologising and “performing a U-turn” to rectify the results scandal. Yet is anyone questioning the decisions of the SQA, the independent authority billed with awarding exam results?

If the Scottish Government had stepped in first, it would have been accused of interference and maybe corruption for giving everyone good grades.

More focus should be on the bureaucrats and statisticians and their reasoning for deciding that downgrading marks was appropriate in the first place.

Alistair Galbraith

I WAS interested in your article “Who has faced no-confidence votes in Scottish Parliament?” (August 12). This article highlighted that the scenario of a no-confidence vote had only occurred three times in the life of the parliament, which is a tribute to the parliament’s 20-year history.

The pending fourth occurrence differs greatly from the other three occurrences. Differs inasmuch as this occurrence is taking place amidst a global pandemic, when the normal business of government and that of normal lives practices have been put on hold.

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So is it justified? Unbelievably, the government minister’s facing a vote of no-confidence is the Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney, who has had an exemplary record in government since 2007. Mr Swinney has made a ministerial statement to parliament this week, a statement warmly welcomed by teachers, parents and pupils alike regarding exam grades for 2020, yet opposition parties can only find it in the midst of a global pandemic to call for the scalp of Mr Swinney.

I sincerely trust that Mr Swinney will remain in government for the good of the country’s future.

Catriona C Clark

I AM not naive enough to have thought that my rather droll (as I thought) suggestion that, in a tight race, the number of English-born and/or educated folk living in Scotland might influence the result of the next independence referendum ( Letters, August 11) would not attract criticism, and I am perfectly aware – as Robert Mitchell points out (August 12) – that many of those folk have become passionate supporters of independence.

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However, Alan Magnus-Bennett’s rather hysterical letter, in the same issue, attributes to me offensive views I do not hold, and I can refer him to my English son-in-law and half-English wife if he wishes.

By angrily denying the possibility of a demographic anomaly which, in such a small country, might have a profound effect on the outcome of a referendum – and failing to grasp that in the “other countries” where Scots have settled (many against their will) there was never a possibility of those countries becoming “Scottified” – he demonstrates a lack of clear thinking and a strange inverse prejudice.

He should, perhaps, take heed of his own impertinent advice to me and “keep his assumptions to himself”.

David Roche