SQA officials have been blasted over their handling of the exam results fiasco after chief executive Fiona Robertson failed to apologise for the debacle.

In a blistering attack, a leading academic has questioned whether SQA leaders even understood their own methods.

Speaking after the SQA’s chief executive and head of qualifications appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, respected education expert Professor Lindsay Paterson told the Sunday National that the officials had “repeatedly failed” to answer the MSPs’ questions.

“They prevaricated, they answered different questions to those asked, they repeated answers they had given earlier, and they hid behind obscure, bureaucratic language when what was needed was clarity,” said Paterson, Professor of Education Policy at the University of Edinburgh.

He said they did not seem even to understand fully the statistical methods which the SQA had used.

“For example, they did not seem to be aware of how the SQA’s allowance for random variation in schools’ recent results had worked in the adjustments this year,” said Professor Paterson.

READ MORE: SQA scandal needs proper analysis, not political gimmicks

“Nor did they seem to be on top of the way in which teachers’ rank ordering of students in their school had been the crucial element of the final awarded grades.

“They did not provide an adequate explanation of why they had been so secretive about their methods, despite the committee’s previous repeated attempt to get them to publish the methods months ago so that these could be debated and refined.”

Professor Paterson added that they also had “nothing useful” to say about the change of policy announced on Tuesday by Deputy First Minister John Swinney. He has restored the teacher estimates for all the downgraded students and, together with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, has apologised for the upset.

Professor Paterson said that although it was too soon for any statistical analysis of the consequences of the change, the SQA officials could have commented on the implications for the credibility of the Scottish system of assessment.

“For a nominally independent organisation, this lack of a view on standards is not reassuring,” he said.

Appearing before Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee last week, Robertson defended the SQA’s methods which saw 125,000 exam results downgraded from teacher estimates, with pupils in schools in areas of deprivation hit hardest.

Robertson confirmed an SQA statistician resigned during the results process but said she wasn’t “privy to the details” of his resignation. Exams were cancelled as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and the SQA was tasked with awarding grades using teacher estimates and a system of moderation.

Justifying the moderation, Robertson said: “Research tells us that school and college estimates are not always accurate.”

Anger is now also running high in England, Wales and Northern Ireland after nearly 40% of A-level results awarded on Thursday were lower than teacher estimates with pupils from schools in deprived areas again suffering the biggest drop. Students and teachers staged a protest outside Downing Street on Friday and more protests are due this week.