School Exams Cancellation (Pupils in Socially Deprived Areas)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd December 2020.

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Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

7. To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to ensure that school pupils in areas of social deprivation will not be unfairly affected by the cancellation of exams. (S5O-04879)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On 8 December, in acknowledgement of Covid-related disruption to young people’s education this academic year, I outlined to Parliament that national qualifications in 2020-21 will be awarded on evidence of demonstrated attainment, supported by local and national quality assurance processes. I have judged that that approach is the safest and the fairest way to ensure that individual learners’ achievements are recognised. The alternative certification model offers flexibility and will help to alleviate some of the impacts on learning.

Collaboration from across the education system will ensure that the assessment and quality assurance approach for 2020-21 is clearly communicated, and that appropriate support for teaching staff and learners is in place.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

In considering the alternative certification model, it is important that there is no repeat of the debacle of earlier this year, when, despite assurances from Mr Swinney on the initial awarding of grades, pupils in areas of social deprivation were unfairly affected.

What steps will the Deputy First Minister take to ensure that the alternative certification model is fair and transparent and ensures that pupils in areas of social deprivation receive fair and equitable treatment?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On transparency, the details of the model have been published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which has led on its development. It is crucial for Parliament to recognise that the model has been developed collaboratively with directors of education, professional associations and the college network in Scotland. Its development has been led by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which has engaged substantively with young people and the education profession around these questions. There is a transparent explanation of the model.

The application of the model will be driven by the demonstrated attainment of young people. That will be influenced by local and national quality assurance processes, which are being established and which will engage the teaching profession in taking forward those priorities to ensure that there is fairness to all candidates.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Maureen Watt, your question will be called next but your card is not showing up. The console that you are sitting at is the console that I sit at, so I am vindicated—it must be faulty. I will call you after Jamie Greene, if you move.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I am glad that my card is working, Presiding Officer.

The previous question was perfectly reasonable, because those in our most-deprived communities were twice as likely to have their grades downgraded by the national moderation scheme this year.

The devil will lie in the detail: it is not just transparency that we need—it is detail. Will the cabinet secretary tell us exactly how and why the Scottish Qualifications Authority is taking that approach? Will there be national moderation, or will the cabinet secretary guarantee that individual moderation will take place in the case of every pupil?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The member asks how moderation works in the model. Support will be provided in advance of any formulation of estimated grades by the teaching profession to enable staff to understand the standards that are anticipated in all national qualifications. Schools will then be provided with materials—which are now available—that contain assessment exercises that young people can complete in their routine school activity. Teachers can assess the completed exercises against the standards that are expected. There will be moderation by SQA appointees, who will work with individual schools, and there will be local authority support for the process into the bargain. Crucially, the model relies on the whole of the education system playing its part in delivering that moderation. From all that will come estimated assessments.

It will of course be necessary to look across the system to ensure that consistency of judgment is being applied. However, there is time to do that. I remind Parliament that I took these decisions much earlier in the academic year than was the case last year, when the circumstances made that necessary. This year, there is time for that dialogue and that moderation to take place to ensure fairness for all candidates.