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Sturgeon apologises to pupils over controversial exam results

The First Minister said not all children will be expected to appeal against their grades.

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Nicola Sturgeon is standing by John Swinney (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon is standing by John Swinney (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Nicola Sturgeon is standing by John Swinney (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

Pupils who had their recent exam results downgraded will not all be expected to appeal against them, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said too much focus was given to the system rather than individuals and apologised to those affected – seeming to acknowledge those in more deprived areas were hardest hit.

She said Education Secretary John Swinney will set out a plan to rectify the matter at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We will be taking steps to ensure that every young person gets a grade that recognises the work they have done.

“Our concern – which was to make sure that the grades young people got were as valid as those they would have got in any other year – perhaps led us to think too much about the overall system and not enough about the individual pupil.

“That has meant that too many have lost out on grades that they think they should have had and also that that has happened as a result of not of anything they’ve done but because of a statistical model or an algorithm, and in addition that burden has not fallen equally across our society.”

She added: “Despite our best intentions, I do acknowledge we did not get this right and I’m sorry for that.

“The most immediate challenge is to resolve the grades awarded to pupils this year.

“We will not expect every student who has been downgraded to appeal.”

When we get things wrong, I want to be able to stand here and acknowledge that and put it rightNicola Sturgeon

With no exams this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) applied a methodology whereby grades estimated by teachers were downgraded based on criteria included the historic performance of the school.

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.

Mr Swinney has faced calls to resign from opposition parties, with Scottish Labour set to mount a no-confidence vote against him in Holyrood and the Conservatives saying they will support it.

The First Minister reiterated her support for her deputy at the briefing.

She said: “When we get things wrong, I want to be able to stand here and acknowledge that and put it right, because I think fundamentally that’s better than simply digging our heels in and trying to defend a position we think in our hearts we didn’t get right.

“That’s the approach I will take, it’s the approach the Deputy First Minister is going to take and I hope that’s the one that young people affected and their families will see as the right approach to take.”

The First Minister also said she is “not prepared” to have young people feel that “no matter how hard they work at school, no matter how seriously they take education, the system is stacked against them”.

While the SQA developed the methodology, the First Minister “absolved” the qualifications authority of responsibility because it was done at the behest of Scottish ministers.

She said: “Ministers asked the SQA to apply an approach that delivered a set of results that are comparable in terms of quality to last year’s.

“This is a view that ministers are taking now that it didn’t take enough account of the individual circumstances.”

PA