Scottish minister apologises for downgraded exam results

Nearly 125,000 grades were lowered by moderation system meant to compensate for school year cut short

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon visits West Calder High School in West Calder, Scotland amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Britain August 10, 2020. Andy Buchanan/Pool via REUTERS
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Scotland’s first minister has admitted her government did not get it right over local exam results amid concerns that pupils from poorer areas were unfairly affected by a moderation formula to calculate final results amid disruption caused by the coronavirus.

Nicola Sturgeon said there had been too much focus on the system rather than pupils in efforts to ensure results were as valid as in previous years.

With no central examinations taking place this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers graded pupils in key exams and the grades were then moderated by relevant academic boards.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, the country’s exams body, lowered almost 125,000 of the grades assessed by teachers in the National 5, the Higher and the Advanced Higher, the local qualifications broadly equivalent to GCSEs, AS and A-levels. Pupils from deprived areas were about twice as likely to have their grades lowered than those from wealthier districts.

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

"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,” she added.

Scotland’s education minister could face a no-confidence vote next week and many of the results are likely to be appealed.

The extent of downgrading has added to widespread fears that millions of A-level and GCSE results predicted by teachers will be lowered before pupils receive them officially on August 13 and 20, respectively.