The National:

THE Priestley Report was published on Wednesday. A significant piece of work done in a very tight time frame but one that has been a long time coming for many young people and their parents.

The comprehensive work by Professor Mark Priestley and his team saw engagement with a wide range of young people and other stakeholders. The report recognises that the SQA found themselves in a difficult position which was clearly unprecedented. However, the report also highlights that ‘some protected groups were disadvantaged more than others’ in the 2020 process. These groups include children with learning difficulties, young carers and care experienced young people, with the report also highlighting that those young people with extenuating circumstances were also potentially disadvantaged.

It is the continued failure of the Scottish Government to instruct the SQA to have an appeals process suitable for these students which leaves an increasing burden upon students and their parents. The anger and upset over this failure has been compounded by repeated assertions by both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister that those students who felt they had been disproportionately disadvantaged could appeal.

The impact of the 2020 SQA process on young people cannot be overstated and the report highlights concerns for the ongoing health and wellbeing of students as well as the impact upon student-teacher relationships. On Wednesday the Deputy First Minister told Parliament that while not getting it right for all young people, ‘we apologised and we acted to fix the situation’. However, many young people continuing to contact myself and youth-led ‘SQA Where’s Our Say?’ would dispute this. There has been no redress for many students. This is despite the Priestley report highlighting that yes, some students were more disadvantaged than others. Only the Scottish Government can address this and address this they must.

Many students and parents who had contacted the Deputy First Minister during August to highlight their concerns received replies on Monday of this week. The letter, signed by a Policy Official, states that the appeals process was ‘similar to that of previous years’. However, given the unprecedented circumstances of 2020, the Priestley report argues that the ‘decision to limit the ground for appeal seems to us to be both unnecessary and counter-productive’. The report highlights that those needing to appeal due to disadvantage are ‘small numbers’ but ‘small numbers’ which have ‘created a great deal of controversy’.

It is this failure to provide redress for those students who had extenuating circumstances which underpins the unfairness in the 2020 process. The consistent argument of the Deputy First Minister that students could appeal through their schools does not stand up to the analysis provided within the Priestley report. Indeed, while the Scottish Government have accepted the recommendation of Professor Priestley to review the appeals system with a view to being compliant with the rights of children, thus far those students disproportionately disadvantaged by the 2020 SQA processes have had their rights disregarded, forgotten and superseded by plans for 2021. While planning ahead is important, it is within the powers of the Deputy First Minister to address the inequities caused in 2020. Afterall fairness was intended as a central tenet of the 2020 process.

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While the message that ‘we will learn from 2020’ is important, this message with no action to mitigate the harms caused to this year’s students should make us all feel very uncomfortable. There is a continued inability to appreciate that the realisation of rights for children and young people does not require a system which is ‘one-size fits all’ and that is why the right to redress through a direct appeals process is required for those students who continue to suffer as a result of the 2020 processes.

The Scottish Government have recently committed to incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law before next May. While that provides increased opportunities for children – those under the age of 18 – to challenge breaches of their rights, it is important to recognise that the rights contained within the Convention already confer a legal obligation on the Scottish Government and the SQA. Admitting the failures of 2020 is not enough, action is required to ensure students have the right to redress they deserve and are legally entitled to.