Borders MSP calls for inquiry as controversy over exam grades continues

Deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney delivering his ministerial statement on exam results in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, August 11. (Photo by Fraser Bremner/pool/Getty Images)Deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney delivering his ministerial statement on exam results in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, August 11. (Photo by Fraser Bremner/pool/Getty Images)
Deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney delivering his ministerial statement on exam results in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, August 11. (Photo by Fraser Bremner/pool/Getty Images)
Borders MP John Lamont and MSP Rachael Hamilton have welcomed this week’s decision by the Scottish Government to scrap the downgraded exam results announced last week and instead rely on teachers’ assessments.

Pupils marked down by the Scottish Qualifications Authority are to be given new grades based solely on teachers’ estimates and discounting their schools’ past performance, Holyrood education secretary John Swinney announced yesterday, August 11, following widespread complaints from children and their parents.

Mr Swinney, also deputy first minister, apologised to the 75,000 young people marked down under that system too.

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Giving a statement to the Scottish Parliament, he said: “These are exceptional times, and in exceptional times, truly difficult decisions are made.

“Speaking directly to the young people affected by the downgrading of awards, the 75,000 pupils whose teacher estimates were higher than their final award, I want to say this – I am sorry.

“I have listened, and the message is clear. They don’t just want an apology – they want to see this fixed and that is exactly what I will now do.

“We now accept that the risk of undermining the value of qualifications is outweighed by a concern that young people, particularly from working-class backgrounds, may lose faith in education and form the view that, no matter how hard you work, the system is against you.

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“Education is the route out of poverty for young people in deprived communities, and we cannot risk allowing that view to take hold.

“We will look to learn lessons from the process to awarding qualifications this year that will help to inform any future actions.”

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Mr Lamont said: “Young people across Scotland have been badly let down by the Scottish Government and their shambolic handling of the exam results.

“Penalising young people from the most deprived areas was a national disgrace.”

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Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mrs Hamilton said: “Firstly, I want to congratulate hard-working pupils right across the Borders, and it was very encouraging to see the pass rate increase.

“However, it has been disappointing to hear that many pupils have been let down by the Scottish Government downgrading results. This has led to many university offers being withdrawn, causing upset and concern for many.

“I welcomed the statement from Mr Swinney that downgraded results would be dropped, but this should have never happened in the first place.

“Now we must see transparency and accountability.

“We have called for an enquiry into this fiasco and want there to be greater certainty that next year pupils will be spared from another blunder and have the ability to sit an actual exam.”

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South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth added: “This climbdown by the education secretary will be welcomed by the thousands of local pupils who had their exam results unfairly marked down.

“The restoration of pupils’ achievement based on the professional judgement of teachers who know them is a victory for fairness, for common sense and, above all, for those young people who refused to take this injustice lying down, but it begs so many questions about how on earth it came to this.

“The education secretary must explain why he failed to listen to warnings as far back as April that the proposed exams system would be a recipe for chaos.

“The system used to award results was completely unjust and fundamentally wrong, and even last week the Scottish Government defended it.

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“It is unacceptable that it took the tabling by Labour of a vote of no confidence in the education secretary to force a U-turn.

“The reality is that John Swinney’s position remains completely untenable.

“This is the latest, and worst, in a string of mistakes and missteps, and he needs to step aside because he has lost the confidence of pupils, parents and teachers.”

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