SQA chief executive expresses regrets but defends exams moderation system

Exam results envelopes from the SQA
Exam results envelopes from the SQA (PA Media)
14:36pm, Wed 12 Aug 2020
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The chief executive the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has said she “regrets” some pupils’ feelings over downgraded results but insisted the moderation system used this year was fair.

Fiona Robertson appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee on Wednesday.

It follows a Scottish Government U-turn due to anger over nearly 125,000 results being downgraded from teacher estimates by the SQA’s controversial moderation system.

The downgraded results will now be withdrawn, reverting to the original estimates.

Coronavirus, Covid-19, Covd 19 (PA Wire)

Ms Robertson said everyone at the SQA was “keenly aware of the concerns from young people” expressed over the past week.

In her opening remarks to the committee, she said: “On the basis of the commission that we received from the Scottish Government, there was a clear and unequivocal case for some moderation.”

The appeals process would have dealt with any “anomalies” in the moderated results, she said, while the SQA’s equalities impact assessments showed the results were “fair”.

Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said to her: “I  listened with intent to your opening statement but there’s one word I didn’t hear, and that’s the word ‘sorry'”.

She responded: “It was difficult to see the reaction to last week’s results.

“But we were asked to fulfil a role and part of that role was to maintain standards across Scotland.

“I fully appreciate that, as I highlighted in my opening statement, young people felt that their achievements had been taken outwith their control.

“I absolutely get that and of course I regret how young people have felt about this process.”

First Minister’s Questions (PA Archive)

Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer asked if one of the SQA’s statisticians had resigned as the moderating system was being developed and if this was because they had concerns about the system.

She confirmed one person had resigned but said: “I’m not privy to the full details of that particular individual.

“It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to go into that in fairness to them.”

Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray asked if the SQA signed off on a moderation system “in the sure and certain knowledge that pupils in those schools with a poorer past performance would be more heavily impacted”.

Ms Robertson said the moderation process was based on data but “the extraordinary circumstances of the year meant that we were awarding on a basis that I think we would all agree were not ideal because of the cancellation of exams”.

I think everybody and their granny knew

The SNP’s Alex Neil raised what he called the “human cost” of the system, saying he had heard from the family of a young woman who had been left “distraught” by a downgraded result and refused to eat or leave her room for three days.

Referring to previous committee meetings which raised concerns about the methodology, he said: “The SQA absolutely refused to listen to the committee’s point about the need to consult on the methodology before it was approved.

“I think everybody and their granny knew that if you used the record of local schools you’d end up with the situation we ended up with – where the moderation process led to two and a half times the downgrades in the poorest areas than happened in the more affluent areas.”

Ms Robertson said “where there are lessons to be learned we will learn them”.

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