Covid Scotland: ‘Generous’ grading system for this year’s exams under measures to tackle Covid disruption in schools

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Grade boundaries will be lowered and appeals will not be able to be downgraded under measures brought in to help Scottish school pupils sit exams during a year disrupted by the Covid pandemic.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) announced the moves as it confirmed a “scenario two” package of support services, including some further help with exam revision, will be in place for learners who are taking National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher courses in 2022.

The SQA said it would take a more “generous” approach to exam grades, with this year’s overall results set to represent an “intermediary position” between 2021 and pre-pandemic years.

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However, the authority reneged on earlier plans to allow students to take additional materials, such as formula sheets and other support materials into exams after agreeing with teachers and the National Qualification 2022 group that it could be detrimental for some pupils to do so. However, study guides will be available for most subjects, helping pupils focus their revision.

The SQA has issued an update about this year's exams diet.The SQA has issued an update about this year's exams diet.
The SQA has issued an update about this year's exams diet.

The new measures are set to be announced in Holyrood this afternoon by education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Opposition parties welcomed the move, but criticised the SQA’s decision not to publish details until March.

Under the new measures, any pupil who appeals a grade will be allowed to do so directly. However, their mark will not be downgraded, with the higher of either the exam or the material submitted for an appeal upheld by independent teachers appointed by the SQA.

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If someone is unable to sit an exam due to medical reasons, including for Covid-related reasons, or is affected by disruption on the day of the exam, their coursework will be similarly assessed by SQA appointees.

The SQA also reiterated exams are expected to take place this summer in Scottish schools.

Last year, the Scottish Government said it hoped exams would go ahead as normal this year “if safe to do so”, but there were two other alternatives it would consider if the pandemic was not under control.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “Today’s announcements are a badly-needed step in the right direction and I am glad the Government have finally listened to Scottish Labour’s calls for a fairer appeals process this year, which is free, includes exceptional circumstances and has a no detriment policy. The new appeals process is welcome, but this decision raises fresh questions about why a similar policy couldn’t be delivered in previous years.”

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He added: “As well as trying to fend off a third year of exams chaos, the Government must set out a real plan to deal with the hours of lost learning and ensure these pupils don’t pay the price for the pandemic in the long term.

“The truth is, as long as Covid is running riot in our schools, pupils will be at a disadvantage. The SNP must do more to keep our classrooms safe.”

More information, including criteria for using the exam exceptional circumstances and appeals services, will be published over coming weeks.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie said: “The education secretary has been slow footed on moving to scenario two when it has been abundantly clear for weeks that this was necessary. It is unfair that students who have had their education excessively and repeatedly disrupted from self-isolation will have to wait until March before they receive exams guidance.”

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Scottish Conservative children and young people shadow minister Meghan Gallacher said the support was “too little, too late”.

She said: “The education secretary has not taken the concerns of pupils and teachers seriously enough. After two years of mass disruption to their education, our schoolkids need to go into their exams feeling prepared and delaying this support until March is not good enough.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said, “The provision by the SQA of some revision support for courses which have an exam is helpful for students, though it will be important that schools and local authorities are supported to enable additional relevant study support for young people who would not otherwise have access to private tutors, in order that students might benefit from the SQA revisions aids on a more equitable basis.”

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Fiona Robertson, SQA chief executive and Scotland’s chief examiner, said learners may be feeling "apprehensive or anxious” about sitting formal exams for the first time this year.

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She said: “The substantial package of additional support SQA is announcing today is the fairest and best way we can help support all learners to demonstrate their level of knowledge, understanding and skills for each course, while also maintaining the integrity, credibility and standard of the qualifications.

“With the support of the education system, we will continue to do all we can to deliver for Scotland’s learners this year.”

This is the third year exams have been disrupted by Covid. In 2020, teachers assigned grades to pupils based on coursework, while last year schools were given freedom to structure their own exam-based assessments.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said: “Given the significant disruption to learning and teaching as a consequence of staff and pupil absence, and the resultant level of anxiety which young people are experiencing in the lead up to National examinations, it is important that as comprehensive support as is possible to provide is made available to them.

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"This wide-ranging support package will go a long way to enabling exam candidates to better demonstrate the true level of their knowledge and skills.”

Stewart Nicolson, from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said: “Given the level of disruption, it’s important that additional support has been identified for learners taking National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams this year.”

The Scottish Government is to scrap the SQA and reform Education Scotland following a report into Scotland’s education system by the OECD last year.

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