From: Alasdair Macdonald and stewartb:

Alasdair:

I think we have a pragmatic decision.

I thought that the SQA had been pretty rigorous in what they did and gave us a set of results that were in line with previous trends. Since we have an appeals system in Scotland, I had thought that the additional evidence that would have to be provided would have given us a bit more clarity on why so many teachers across all sections of society gave the higher (as distinct from Higher) predictions that they did.

However, I think that the number of appeals would have been physically difficult to process in the time available. The teachers, as well as restarting schools after the long-term closure and with the virus still present, would have had a significant burden in preparing the appeals within the time scale and the Appeals panels would similarly have too voluminous a task to do within the time available.

In addition, because most students knew what their predicted grades were, there was a greater degree of disappointment than would have been the case in a ‘normal’ year when the courses would have been completed, all internal assessments and coursework had been completed and marked and the range of moderation stages had been gone through. To have to go through an appeals process would have prolonged this uncertainty, would have been cruel.

As I said, I think pragmatism has been the deciding factor. It shows compassion to the young people. University and College and apprenticeship recruitment can go ahead. These bodies will have to be pragmatic in the application of their criteria and might have to consider increasing the number of places.

The Government was courageous in accepting responsibility, although I do not think they needed to take as full responsibility as they did. There are others who need to look at their own actions – and I am applying the principle of charity sincerely – and teachers need to consider why they gave the estimates they did.

These were unprecedented circumstances and, I hope will not recur. However, the loss of education will impact on the coming session’s cohort of students. But, if we can have a largely uninterrupted session, with exams, internal assessments and coursework completed, full moderation applied, then we ought to have awards which can have greater validity.

There has to be a proper independent enquiry into this year’s experience and I hope, but forlornly, that the media and opposition parties will face this in a cooperative and constructive way.

We need to make the current system work better, because we will have it for some more years until any revised system is accepted and introduced. Past experience indicates that such major changes can take up to a decade to make.

The experience in Scotland will be broadly replicated in the rest of the UK, and a number of other countries.

As for the young people themselves, I hope they have seen that protest and debate can change minds. Many have been given the benefit of the doubt. They will have a fair idea themselves of what they are really capable, if they are prepared to be honest with themselves. Perhaps the experience will lead to changes in attitudes towards study and, as they move into more challenging phases of education and training, they will put in the kind of efforts that will be of benefit.

Again, a pragmatic decision which allows us to move on, perhaps a bit bruised and shaken, but, more experienced and wiser.

Stewartb’s response:

1) “I thought that the SQA had been pretty rigorous in what they did and gave us a set of results that were in line with previous trends. Since we have an appeals system in Scotland …”

I agree. And the appeals process, now put aside, was a crucial part of the overall assessment and award ‘system’ design. However, the scale, the burden of the appeals process for so many would have put its feasibility in doubt.

2) “I think pragmatism has been the deciding factor. It shows compassion to the young people.”

I agree and the latter point is notable an, given there is no perfect outcome, right! However I suspect that we will now see the ‘oppositionalists’ shift their ground to the devaluation/grade inflation charge. When will we have the first young person profiled complaining about their high achievement being devalued?

3) “The Government was courageous in accepting responsibility, although I do not think they needed to take as full responsibility as they did. There are others who need to look at their own actions – and I am applying the principle of charity sincerely – and teachers need to consider why they gave the estimates they did.”

On both points I think you are spot on. And if we were to move to a wholly teacher-based assessment system there would still need to be standards, moderation and rigorous checks on teachers’ assessment practices for any new ‘system’ of to have integrity and to be deemed appropriate by a range of legitimate stakeholders across the whole of Scotland and over time.

4) “There has to be a proper independent enquiry into this year’s experience and I hope, but forlornly, that the media and opposition parties will face this in a cooperative and constructive way.”

I agree on the importance of independent and rigorous inquiry but I too doubt how the media and opposition politicians will engage. A childish tweet from Ian Murray today, the calls for resignation today in Holyrood, and the hypocrisy of the Douglas Ross statements in his C4 News interview this evening all add to my pessimism.