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Scotland’s under-fire Education Secretary to address exam results chaos

Results for pupils in the most deprived data zones were reduced by more than those in the most affluent areas.

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John Swinney during a visit to Stonlelaw High School in Glasgow (Andy Buchanan/PA)

John Swinney during a visit to Stonlelaw High School in Glasgow (Andy Buchanan/PA)

John Swinney during a visit to Stonlelaw High School in Glasgow (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Scotland’s education secretary is to address anger over exam results chaos, as he faces a no-confidence vote in the Scottish Parliament.

John Swinney said he will set out a series of steps to address the concerns on Tuesday, amid mounting criticism over the downgrading of pupils’ results.

With no exams sat this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Qualifications Authority applied a methodology that saw grades estimated by teachers downgraded.

Pass rates for pupils in the most deprived data zones were reduced by 15.2% in comparison with 6.9% for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds.

Scottish Labour will this week table a motion of no confidence in Mr Swinney, who is also the Deputy First Minister, which will be supported by the Scottish Conservatives.

Ahead of the vote, Mr Swinney said he had “heard the anger of students who feel their hard work has been taken away” and said he was “determined to address it”.

“These are unprecedented times and as we have said throughout this pandemic, we will not get everything right first time,” he said.

“Every student deserves a grade that reflects the work they have done, and that is what I want to achieve.

“I have been engaged in detailed discussions over the way forward and I know that we need to act and act quickly to give certainty to our young people.

“I will set out on Tuesday how we intend to achieve that.”

Earlier, Lord McConnell, the former Labour first minister, issued a warning to Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney over the exam results chaos, saying “get it fixed or go”.

Lord McConnell said the fiasco which saw 124,564 pupils’ results downgraded is “not good enough for Scotland”.

And writing in the Sunday Times, former SNP minister Alex Neil said the Scottish Government “must reverse the decisions it made about examination results that saw the poorest children in many of the most deprived areas downgraded on the altar of a manufactured algorithm prepared in secret”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said about three-quarters – 377,708 – of all grade estimates required no adjustment, adding that the SQA results “show a narrowing of the gap between the most and least disadvantaged young people attaining grades A–C compared to last year, and to a level below the average for the last four years”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon must remove Mr Swinney, saying she either “backs Scotland’s pupils or she backs an education secretary that has presided over this exams fiasco”.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Iain Gray, said Mr Swinney “needs to go”, adding: “It’s taken John Swinney five days to even admit this fiasco is his responsibility. The threat of a no-confidence motion has seen him finally accept the fact that he got this badly wrong.”

The Scottish Greens and Liberal Democrats have not said if they will back the no-confidence motion.

Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said he welcomed John Swinney’s “admission that the Scottish Government got this badly wrong”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “An admission of error is step one in resolving this major issue but the detailed solution is what matters.

“Why we ever got into this sorry state is a question that needs answered too.”

PA