unnamed-1.jpg

Has Scotland's exam grades system disadvantaged poorer pupils this year?

SNP's Education Secretary John Swinney MSP has claimed there is “no evidence” that pupils from poorer areas were disadvantaged by Scotland’s new school grades system. Does he pass or fail?

The Claim: 

“There is no evidence that young people in deprived communities have been disadvantaged because the pass rate in their circumstances at Higher has increased, and that has resulted in the closure of the attainment gap.”


SNP Education Secretary John Swinney MSP

BBC Scotland, 4th August 2020.
 

    The facts

  • Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s exams were cancelled.  Teachers, therefore, gave estimated grades to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) based on students' performance. 

  • The SQA then moderated these results, taking into account previous exam results from the school.  This means that a student's grade is not simply based on the assessment of their own work and achievement, but that of previous students at their school.

  • The result of this moderation has resulted in 133,000 entries adjusted from the initial teachers’ estimate - or around a quarter of all entries. Of those, 93% were adjusted down at least one grade.

  • The SQA's own Equality Impact Assessment shows that the more deprived an area is that the school is in, the more likely it is that the SQA downgraded teachers' estimates of students' grades.

  • For National 5, the number of students passing (achieving grades A-C) was reduced by the SQA's moderation by 10.5 percentage points for schools in the most deprived communities, whilst the figure was less than half of this, 5.2 percentage points, in schools in the most affluent communities.

  • For Higher, the number of students passing (achieving grades A-C) was reduced by the SQA's moderation by 15.2 percentage points for schools in the most deprived communities, whilst the figure for schools in the most affluent communities was only 6.9 percentage points.

What the experts say

 

 “Poorest young people downgraded from a *pass* to a *fail* at Higher at over twice the rate of their most affluent peers. Predominantly based on their schools' prior performance.”

Barry Black, Economic and Social Research Council postgraduate researcher at Urban Big Data Centre.
Twitter, 4th August 2020


"In a national exam a student might have their grade changed, but this would only be loosely influenced by other students as the whole national cohort is used to form grade boundaries.  However, in SQA’s new standardisation process, a student might have their grade changed as a result of what students and teachers in their local centre had been doing. By contrast, if you take a driving test in the UK, it is a national test set to national standards. Your result should not depend on what has been happening in your local town."

Statistician Professor Guy Nason, of Imperial College London

Commenting on SQA Methodology, 4th August 2020

"Today students became not people with opportunities, chances and realisation of success.  They became at the mercy of a statistical algorithm.  I would think national bodies will have a cheek to ever preach to anyone again about equity.  Scottish education systems sadly failed today."

Neil McLennan, Senior Education Lecturer, University of Aberdeen

Twitter, 4th August 2020

 

"An outstanding student in an average school will be likely to have had their grades pulled down. This is very unfair."

Professor Lindsay Paterson, University of Edinburgh’s professor of education policy

The Scotsman, 5th August 2020

 

 

Scotland in Union Fact Check Conclusion:

 

John Swinney has failed the simple test to tell the truth.

The moderation system used this year has downgraded results for pupils in Scotland’s most deprived communities at over twice the rate of their peers in the most affluent areas.

Results have been adjusted based on post code, not performance, penalising those who attend schools in the poorest neighbourhoods.

 

Straight A students from deprived communities have seen their grades marked down, restricting their opportunities to attend university.

There is clear evidence that young people in deprived communities have been disadvantaged and Mr Swinney is therefore lying.

The SNP Government asked to be judged on its education record. It has failed a generation of young people in Scotland.

Has Scotland's exam grades system disadvantaged poorer pupils this year?

Yes, sadly young people in our most deprived areas have been disadvantaged by the SQA's adjustments.  Mr Swinney is wrong to say otherwise.

The SNP Government asked to be judged on its education record. It has now failed a generation of young people in Scotland.

FAIL

  • Facebook - White Circle
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon
  • White LinkedIn Icon

Scotland in Union is a Company Limited By Guarantee registered in Scotland, company number SC492324

272 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 4JR