An SNP MP says she is “deeply concerned” after pupils in the most deprived areas of Scotland had their exam pass rate downgraded by more than twice that of students from the wealthiest parts of the country.
Exams for nationals, highers and advanced higher courses were scrapped this year due to the COVID-19 lockdown, with teachers instead submitting estimated grades based on students’ previous results, predicted attainment and evidence of their past work.
The grades were then looked at by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which has moderated 26.2% of them, while leaving the rest unchanged.
Of those grades that were moderated, 93.1% were downgraded, affecting 124,564 pupils.
The pass rate of pupils in the most deprived data zones was reduced by 15.2% from teacher estimates after the exam board’s moderation.
In contrast, the pass rate for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds dropped by 6.9%.
SNP MP Mhairi Black tweeted: “I am deeply concerned by the information released today, which shows students from deprived areas saw their results reduced from their predicted grades at a higher rate than those from wealthier areas.
“The Scottish government must address this.”
If you got the results you wants and you’re now looking ahead to sitting your Highers next, or going to college or uni, I hope you really take the time to savour this moment. You deserve it!
— Mhairi Black MP🏳️🌈 (@MhairiBlack) August 4, 2020
Opposition politicians have warned that there will a “deluge” of appeals, and accused the SQA of treating the professional judgement of teachers with “contempt” by changing so many grades.
Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray said: “Too many have seen their results lowered, often with passes turned into fails, damaging their prospects for university or college.
“Worst of all, the SQA have done this on the basis of each school’s past performance, marking the school not the pupil, and baking in the attainment gap.
“They were told that this would be grossly unfair and it is. The SQA have also treated teachers’ professional judgement with contempt.”
He added: “The SQA will now be deluged with appeals – I hope they are ready to deal with them properly.”
Nicola Sturgeon has defended the SQA over the moderation process and she claimed the system helped to maintain the “credibility” of results.
The first minister said without the moderation, a 19.8% increase of the pass rate among the poorest fifth of pupils would have been “unprecedented and therefore not credible”.
At National 5 level, the pass rate for the poorest pupils was 74%, when teachers’ estimates would have led to an 84.5% pass rate without moderation.
For the least deprived, the 92.3% estimated pass rate fell to 87.1% after the SQA’s moderation.
Despite the downgrading, exam pass rates rose at every level and would have been the highest on record without the SQA downgrading some submitted results, Education Secretary John Swinney said.
After SQA moderation, the National 5 pass rate was 81.1%, the higher pass rate was 78.9% and the advanced higher pass rate was 84.9%.
The pass rates have risen from 78.2%, 74.8% and 79.4% respectively in 2019.
An SQA spokesman said: “The most disadvantaged young people have achieved better results in 2020 compared to both 2019 and the average results for the last four years.
“At grades A to C, the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged young people is also narrower this year for National 5, higher and advanced higher than for last year or the average gap for the last four years.”