THE Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has come in for fierce criticism for the secretive system which has led to pupils living in the country’s most deprived areas being twice as likely to be marked down in their exams as their counterparts in more affluent areas.

The coronavirus crisis saw Scotland’s exams being cancelled for the first time in 130 years, with pupils’ grades instead being based on the judgments of their teachers.

However, all of those predicted marks had to be vetted by the SQA’s national system of “moderation”.

The body said this process – the detail of which was kept under wraps until yesterday – was put in place to maintain “standards and credibility”.

Controversially, the exams body did this in part by looking at each school’s previous history of results.

Traditionally, schools in deprived areas have fared worse at exams than their more affluent counterparts.

Overall, around 133,000 entries were adjusted from the initial estimate, around a quarter of all entries – 6.9% of those estimates were adjusted up and 93.1% were adjusted down, with 96% of all adjusted grades changed by one grade.

An equality impact assessment of the results released by the SQA showed that those students in the lowest percentile of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation – students in Scotland’s most deprived areas – had their Higher pass rate reduced by 15.2%. However, students in the least deprived areas only had their rate reduced by just 6.9%.

READ MORE: Scottish exam results: Overall pass rate the best in 14 years

Asked about the discrepancy at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said questions would have been asked if the teachers’ judgements hadn’t been altered.

She said that without the moderation there would have been an 85.1% Higher pass rate for the most deprived pupils. That would have been an increase of 20% on last year.

The First Minister said: “What we want to make sure is that this year’s results have the degree of credibility that means that they are not so out of sync with previous years that people are going to look at them and say ‘they don’t make any sense’.

“As much as I would love to be in the position of standing here credibly saying that 85% of the 20% in the most deprived areas had passed Higher, given that it was 65% last year, that would raise a real credibility issue.”

She added: “Anybody who has a result, has passed a Higher or a National 5 today, can hold their head up for having a credible exam result, albeit without the actual exam.

“That’s why the methodology in the moderation system is important in order to do that so that people don’t look at incredible inflation and pass rates and say the whole system wasn’t in some way credible.”

In its guidance the SQA said the moderation “sought to assess whether the [school or college’s] estimated proportional attainment for each grade was broadly consistent with its historic attainment on that grade over the last four years — with additional allowances for variability”. It added: “Where the assessment showed that a centre’s 2020 estimated attainment on a grade was outside the tolerable range for that grade at the centre, the centre’s estimates for that course were adjusted.”

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said the results were “disturbing and grossly unequal”. He said he had been contacted by teachers who are “distressed and upset” by the changes made by the SQA.

He said: “Teachers and pupils should not hesitate to appeal these huge changes from the grades they submitted. I have been contacted by senior staff at schools who have seen over 90% of their Higher and Advanced Higher grades changed, almost all lowered and in every one of these cases the school has been in a deprived community.

“How can the SQA say the system is based on teacher judgment when in some schools they have ignored almost every professional judgment that teachers have made?”

Labour’s Iain Gray said teachers had been treated with contempt: “The SQA will now be deluged with appeals. I hope they are ready to deal with them properly.”

One Coatbridge teenager took to Twitter to express her anger. Orla Costello said: “I’m really trying the understand how the #SQA think it’s okay to mark me from a predicted A to an F in psychology because I come from a deprived school with low results despite having 4 As at higher already. If that doesn’t show I’m a capable student then what does?”

Larry Flanagan, from the EIS, said schools would “examine in detail” the SQA’s adjustments and “where there is disquiet the evidence-based appeal system should be utilised, in the endeavour to ensure that all young people receive results that accurately reflect their achievements throughout the year.”