Why won’t the exams fiasco go away? Because you won’t let it

Note how the word ‘fiasco’ has lost its qualifying speech marks? If you say it’s a fiasco often enough then it becomes accepted that it really is one. All that is required is repetition.

Only a handful of students protesting, out of thousands? A higher pass rate especially for those in disadvantaged areas? The same method as used in England and Wales? Too late! It’s a fiasco!

In the last few days since the first disappointed student tweeted her anger and stalking journalists picked the story up before interviewing a few for TV, radio and newspaper audiences, the tale of betrayal has gone viral.

It became the headline story in all Scottish newspapers and on TV and radio broadcasts. In one weekend, the Scotsman alone had nearly twenty critical pieces, often by former and current members of the Labour and Conservative parties. Good Morning Scotland presenters read the newspaper headlines out as if they were facts and a recording of that posted on YouTube was quickly taken down.

Across Twitter, the stories were shared and shared by opposition politicians and by the same press, TV and radio journalists.

With English results some weeks off, the UK media piled in again largely accepting the narrative of betrayal fostered by their Scottish colleagues.

Readers, viewers and listeners, often the same people, were bombarded by a one-sided story of wrongly assessed A-students, bureaucratic insensitivity and stolen careers. Most will have had their consciousness drowned in the tide.

Those who frequent alternative critical media such as this site and a few others will have benefited from another perspective but for too many reality will have been overwhelmingly constructed for them by a tsunami of hyperbole and mis-representation.

Last year, thousands were disappointed and submitted appeals. The SQA had to carefully moderate them all again. Many forced them to change their mind and got what they wanted. Many didn’t.

SQA does U-turn on thousands of exam results?

You chose not to say that and in so doing influenced the construction of reality for thousands of students and hundreds of thousands of those who observed.

Why won’t the exam fiasco go away? Because you and your colleagues need it to be accepted so as to affirm your own at times fragile grasp.

39 thoughts on “Why won’t the exams fiasco go away? Because you won’t let it”

  1. I’ve waited in vain for any of the critics of the SQA/SNP to put forward their ideas on how they would have done the job of rescuing Scotland’s school pupils from the devastating effects of a pandemic disease. Not a positive word has been written or said.
    Rather,they would seem to imply that the SQA and the Scottish Government have gone out of their way to do harm to our youth. In a word, “disgusting”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. totally agree, and also feel the fact moderation happens every year under governments whatever their party should be part of any reasoned debate on this. NS and the SNP aren’t above criticism, and there needs to be robust scrutiny but the opposition Scottish parties can only do personal attacks safe in the knowledge they’ll never have to put forward a rational alternative. To top it all the anti NS brigade will now pounce on today’s decision as a sign of weakness and put the boot in too. Sad days


  3. This has all the signs of a media ‘pile-in’,to give the impression that there is widespread anger. Such a pile in is easy to organise given the few papers there are in Scotland, plus BBC and STV.This means there are barely 20 people who need to coordinate the ‘narrative’ to have it vomited out.

    The Scottish Tories have a new spin doctor called Trevido, who worked for the Tories in England and for Dominic Cummings on Brexit.He and his cronies have been despatched here to coordinate bad stories about the SG and the SNP and to carry out monsterings such as was done toJeremy Corbyn.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Fiasco; complete failure. I think not re the Scottish government, but the UK EngGov managing of well, anything really, is certainly a ‘fiasco’. The media (so called) demonisation of the Scottish government and their by and large competent and effective ministers, is extremely sinister. Within the context of using words like ‘magic’, and outward saying that Scotland does not exist in the eyes of those outside of the UK because the ‘British institutions’ are what people see, is an utter disgrace.

      Scotland can do no right, and/but does not exist for those outwith the UK. If that’s not an abusive dangerous tack to take I don’t know what is.

      What’s next, because the BritNats are desperate.
      It riles them that Nicola Sturgeon is in fact much respected in near and far flung lands! Scotland is viewed as an equal competent partner in any future EU membership, to be welcomed with open arms.

      BREXIT IS A HUGE FIASCO, the Tories are a ‘FIASCO’, as are their pals red Tories. The ‘UK’ is not cosy, it’s not ‘magic’ it’s a total freaking FIASCO.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The UK pro-Unionist media must think this story has traction. It even made it onto the main 6 o’clock BBC News – you know, the important news, not the common “News where you are” news.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. No sooner had Sturgeon announced a change of tack, and John Beattie starts pumping out she’s wattering down our exam system.

    Whereas in the last week it’s been wall to wall Pupils wailing about being downgraded .

    The same tactics were deployed on John Swinney’s “Blended Learning” On issuing his plan the BBC platformed agressivelly angry parents demanding return to fulltime education. Once a return to FTE. was announced out came the voices of concern.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Even as I listened to the FM’s announcement, I thought they would. It was pretty predictable wasn’t it? Hopefully, they’re now doing it on such a regular basis that the public will start to notice. I think she was right to ‘back-track’ and admit they’d got it wrong – especially the reason why.

      Most people on the street don’t understand what an algorithm is and how it works. I understand the principles for broad predictions, but not how it can be applied at ‘a more granular level’. (I gave up on maths at an early age, much as dyslexics may give up on reading. So mathematical modelling, proofs, stats etc are something I tend to avoid. To me, numbers are confusing and tiring enough as it is, without their ability to mean whatever the person quoting them wants.)

      So the big question is: I can see how the SQA arrived at the conclusion that 20% improvement was a bit unlikely, but how did they decide which pupils were wrongly graded?

      ScotGov have admitted that this was a flaw that they hadn’t taken into account before, but now they are. I’ll watch John Swinney’s statement today with interest. If the BBCS actually broadcast it – and tell you when it’s on!

      For the future, maybe a fairer way would be grades on a set number of pieces of work, with all grades and a submission of copies of the best and worse pieces (including teacher’s comments) to the SQA. Plus, perhaps, a section for further relevant information – bad home life, poor health, dealing with bullying etc. In the event of an appeal, all work to be submitted with any further mitigation. More like performance appraisal process?

      This would have the advantage of evening out the playing field both ways. Some teachers aren’t objective in their assessment, but they’d be less able to give generously to favourites if the work done could be seen. It works the other way too, of course. Underestimates because you don’t like the pupil would also be harder. (I speak as the parent of a child whose classmates used to say “I wonder what X will find to pick on in what you do this week”.)


      1. I think you have it – exams themselves are no longer a sort of levelling of opportunity but rather an unplanned(?) method of confirming social and economic differences and thus future opportunities. One of the big horrors of the current situation was the SQA very early walk away from all of the coursework that would normally have been used to assess some subjects. There very often a marked difference in performance of young people in their normal continuous assessment tasks and tests as compared with the full ‘exam’ diet.
        And grades alone in my experience tell you nothing about a persons ability to work with others, to
        learn and to engage meaningfully with life and work.


  6. Any student who claims they were told their predicted grade is mistaken, they were not!

    There has been almost no rational discussion of the details of how the SQA operated the moderation system, or how much work teachers put in to supply the required information.
    I can guarantee that most of the commentators have not read the SQA reports – or if they have, they are misrepresenting them.

    Click to access SQAChiefExaminingOfficer2020NQReport.pdf

    Click to access SQAAwardingMethodology2020Report.pdf

    Click to access Attainment_Statistics_(August)_2020_Notes.pdf


    1. School students have been able to be told their predicted grades from 0800 on results day. Many of them have been.


  7. English A level results will be announced on Thursday. There are already suggestions that they have been downgraded to a greater extent than the Scottish Highers.
    Let’s see what the MSM make of that! If you want to appeal your results in England, it costs you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This interview on Channel 4 news tonight was a bit gobsmacking on several counts not least that this supposed ‘expert’s had no idea how the grades could be individualised/calculated if not by an algorithm. He also trotted out the ‘Scottish Education is rubbish’ line beloved of the MSM. All in all a not very impressive performance.


    John Swinney should come out fighting tomorrow and blow the trumpet for the SG’s achievements particularly in closing the attainment gap. But he probably won’t.

    Since the Unionist parties take such exception to the use of an algorithm then the next time they start on about PISA scores then it should be pointed out that those scores are the result of applying an algorithm.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. John,
        I am not sure I could do that but here is a link to a ‘long read’ about PISA. It is worth reading and contains this nugget:
        “”Just as hardly anyone really understands the Google algorithm, how many teachers, politicians, educationalists or policymakers genuinely understand how Pisa works?

        “Do teachers realise, for example, that many of the test scores used to calculate Pisa rankings are not from real pupils answering questions, but from a computer running a statistical programme to work out what the probable answer of a pupil who didn’t actually take the test would have been?””


        Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw that interview. It was a bonkers waste of time. John snow got a bit impatient with the senior silly man.


  9. I think it’s a shame that the main focus is all about grades A and B.

    Larry Flanagan made a point early on results day that the majority of the changes are from a C to a D. Both are pass grades but the grade D is of no real benefit as it is not accepted by many schools for those wanting to progress from Nat 5 to Higher, and Cleese’s and universities commonly only count grades A to C as a pass.

    The algorithmic change from a C to D effects the pupils at historically poorer performing s schools disproportionately.

    Let’s hope that is what gets addressed today. Universities and colleges and employers can all play a part of course by declaring their normal ‘rules’ to be relaxed for 2020 covid grade children.


  10. Nicola yesterday and John Swinney today are essentially resiling on the SQA methods of assessment due to pressure from Ross Greer. Without the Greens support the motion of no confidence is likely to succeed. This is one of the penalties of a minority government.

    The thought of inflicting a humiliation on the government is more important than the integrity of the examination system. As someone who in the distant past interviewed school leavers I am certain that, in future, anyone from less than a top flight school will have their results viewed with a very jaundiced eye.

    Worse still international confidence in the system will be severely eroded and entrance requirements will likely be inflated for Scottish pupils.

    I really am despairing of a media and opposition who will trash the credibility of our exam system to score cheap, transitory victories. Also the measured passivity of the SNP in defending the SQA does make me wonder if they don’t have much confidence in the SQA themselves.


    1. The jaundiced eye will be equally cast at all applicants though. Maybe the interviews will hold more weight than the scrap of paper clutched hopefully to anxious applicant chest?


  11. Forecasting isn’t easy, whichever way this went it would be considered a fiasco, if the had accepted teacher forecasts they would have been too lenient and sending kids to university and college to fail.

    Many teachers over predict, many get it more or less right but i doubt many get it spot on every year. Some teachers teach to the prelim which can result in an over inflated result, come the exam the pupil doesn’t have the same backup. Many teachers will be furious if the Govt go with Labour and accept teacher grades, especially those who generally get it right and where colleagues who regularly over predict then appear to have better results.

    No easy fix, Teachers would be doubly under pressure if they went with the Tory solution of redoing exams in Autumn, bad enough catching up on 3 months of lost schooling without prepping for exams.

    Overall a shoddy political mess deliberately engineered by the opposition and the media, the Greens have certainly lost my second vote as this is a step too far calling for a vote of confidence in an MP who has been doing a sterling job in the face of a wide range of views from teachers, parents, pupils, unions and of course so called education professionals who can seldom agree among themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah fret not
      They shall gorge upon it till nothing left
      Over indulgence can only lead to severe belly ache
      In truth the drum they bang with gusto
      Will soon be burst
      And anyway they only know one tune and drum beat
      Which the vast majority are rather tired of now
      Their efforts are a vain attempt in desperation to stop the 54% growing to 60% for Indy
      That is their masters bark to his mad dogs
      A sure fire sign they are losing it
      More power to their elbow i cry
      So more drums go bust


  12. “This interview on Channel 4 news tonight was a bit gobsmacking on several counts not least that this supposed ‘expert’s had no idea how the grades could be individualised/calculated if not by an algorithm.”

    Whereas the (wo)man in the street probably has no idea how they can be individualised BY an algorithm – as in my post above I don’t!

    “I really am despairing of a media and opposition who will trash the credibility of our exam system to score cheap, transitory victories. Also the measured passivity of the SNP in defending the SQA does make me wonder if they don’t have much confidence in the SQA themselves.”

    It’s not just the exam system they’re trashing to score points. Re defending the SQA – if they did defend it/them there’d be immediate accusations of not taking the problem seriously/cover up/Failing The Young etc…


  13. Clearly a lot of reaction to this which I entirely agree but purely from a Political standpoint I feel the SNP Gov will not want to alienate 15/16 year olds who to some extent they will be relying on at the next years Elections and Indy ref. Must say it is times like this I do miss Salmond’s ‘robust’ approach on these issues. For better or worse I don’t think this would have escalated to this extent it has if he had been in control. Great respect for Sturgeon but I do weary at the ‘too ready to capitulate’ attitude often adopted by her on critical issues.


  14. Donald McGregor @ 8.11 am.
    You said in your post “”One of the big horrors of the current situation was the SQA very early walk away from all of the coursework that would normally have been used to assess some subjects.””

    I am not sure exactly what you are referring to here but if it is the Unit Assessments (UA) that, together with the final exam, used to be part of the overall assessment of a subject then it was the teachers who campaigned during 2016 for the UA to be scrapped. The teaching unions even went so far as to ballot their members about taking industrial action in pursuit of their objective.

    The teachers eventually got their way and the UAs were scrapped. They hailed this as a victory for common sense. The removal of the UAs was phased in starting in 2017-18. In order to maintain the integrity of the exams the SQA among others had to devise new guidelines for the exams. The result is longer exams – 30 min longer and in some cases 40 min.

    In this current situation when teachers say they have used course work etc to estimate the grades then they are talking about a mishmash mash of work to no set standard that is likely to vary considerably between schools and within schools. Hence the need for external moderation and the use of algorithms to try to even out the variation. Doubly necessary when there is no historical evidence to show how well or otherwise teachers’ estimated grades have correlated with the actual grades obtained by pupils in the exams.


    1. I wasn’t referring to the old formal unit assessments – I believe they were moved away from alongside the move to stop pupils being taken forward to Nat 5 while at the same time banking a Nat 4. There do remain of course the normal ‘end of unit’ tests that teachers carry out to allow them to see where the pupils are at.
      I was referring to the 20th March having been the final date for pupils to submit course work for external review for many subjects, that the SQA almost immediately said they would not be looking at and furthermore would not be returning, and that the SQA have also not looked at the various bits of work that pupils complete at school under exam conditions ( and had competed by 20th March) that go forward to form around 20-30% of grade in various written and technical subjects.


      1. The Unit Assessments were hardly old given that the phasing out of these assessment in certificate courses started in 2017-18 and ended in 2019-20.

        As formal assessments which counted towards the final grade they would have been a useful tool in the current circumstances to inform the teachers’ final decision about grades.

        Doing away with them which is what the teachers wanted actually put more pressure on the pupils and the final exams.


  15. Prof Lindsay Paterson seems to think he knows how to fix it (BBC radio this morning) – he says to use teacher’s grading if based on a Prelim exam.

    Prelims are of varying standard and in a lot of cases sat a couple of months into the school year – genius! Some were done less then a third of the way through the curriculum. Some schools sat them in March – Apples and Pears!

    Also, teachers were instructed not to do that for obvious reasons.

    He seems to dislike the SQA – who he judges are to blame, not John Swinney, and characterises them as mere “bureaucrats & statisticians” – a tad OTT?

    It’s a large organisation, and they do have rather a lot of “managerial types” – but also head teachers and other educational professionals at high levels in the organisation.

    They also have Grahame Smith (Former General Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress) on the Board of Management. And Sonia Kordiak, the Vice Convenor of the EIS Education Committee, is on their Advisory Council – just one of the ways in which teachers are represented. I wonder what they think of the criticisms. Has Richard Leonard spoken to Grahame Smith?



  16. Well mr Swinney gets my vote. Good man, good move.
    AND a likely shift away from so much reliance on exams. Really good outcome.


  17. I’ve been told several times today that exam results should not be a lottery. I agree. And I know they are not.  I’ve also been told it’s time exams were scrapped and continuous assessment introduced. I’ve been around education for a long time and I start to wonder if people think teachers are aw daft. Back in 2000 when Scottish education was undergoing huge changes, we did give continuous assessment a shot as we tried to plot a path from school to college education and university.  It was a nightmare. I’ve never seen so many bits of paper. Pupils and students could sit assessments as often as they wanted till they passed. Teachers had to do the testing : find the kid, find a room, make sure you had a test, record the data. Now do that 2, 3, 4, or 20 times. We had folios and dossiers and in subjects like languages recordings. But that’s just storage.  The real problem is you have to have time to do the teaching before you can assess the learning. And what’s fine to assess as often as you like with 15 students becomes unmanageable with 25 or 100 or 1500.  A lot of us did believe in continuous assessments but we couldn’t make them work.

    The continuous assessment plan failed because teachers, students, and employers more assurance of stability and credibility. That’s the system we have now.  Jean Nisbet


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