Scotland’s poorest teenagers ‘betrayed’ by Nicola Sturgeon as exam pass rates plummet

At Advanced Higher, 81.3 per cent of entries passed, down from 90.2 per cent last year but still an increase on the 79.4 per cent the last time exams took place.

Prof Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, said: “The switch to teacher assessment during the Covid years led to runaway grade inflation in spite of the exam boards attempts to moderate.

“This year’s exams have brought the grades back down to nearly where they were pre-pandemic.

“This is a pointer to next week’s A-levels since the government had asked for a reduction to half way, but Scotland looks to have gone further.”

‘We’ve delivered fairness’

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, questioned why the pass rate had increased since 2019, given this year’s cohort of pupils had missed at least five months of school.

He said: “Put this very crudely – how would the Scottish Government and the SQA respond to a proposal to shut schools for about a quarter of the year, to give pupils laptops and online lessons, and to have teachers on hand to staff an advice line?

“Of course, that would not be my view, but what it does perhaps show is that neither the courses nor the assessments any longer bear very much relationship to what a proper education should be.”

Fiona Robertson, chief executive of the SQA, said that her organisation’s job was to set up a “fair” assessment system. She insisted that detailed questions about the attainment gap were “not for me”.

Asked about the widening gulf in attainment compared to the previous two years, she pointed to evidence that showed the poorest children had been hardest hit by disruption to their learning.

“We’ve seen a return to exams but it’s not a return to a normal year,” she said. “Overall, I think we’ve delivered fairness for learners, and a key responsibility we have is to maintain the credibility and standards of the qualifications system.

“Most important of all, results day is about learners taking pride in their achievements.”

A spokesman for Ofqual, the exam watchdog for England, said: “We’ve been clear that grading will be generous this year. Overall results in England are likely to be lower than they were in 2021, when grades were awarded by teacher assessment, but higher than in 2019, when summer exams last took place.”

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