Covid Scotland: John Swinney under pressure amid demands for exam system overhaul

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John Swinney has come under pressure to take “bold action” and seek the resignation of Scotland’s exam body in an overhaul of the system amid significant disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Education Secretary John Swinney, the Scottish Greens’ education spokesman Ross Greer said trust in the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) is “all but non-existent”.

Mr Greer proposed a fresh structure for a replacement board, saying it should include representatives from trade unions, parent groups, the Scottish Youth Parliament, colleges and head teachers.

The SQA was at the centre of a storm last August after the estimated marks of thousands of students, submitted by their teachers, were downgraded by the body.

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The grades were eventually restored to the teacher estimates after a Scottish Government climb-down, but the scandal saw Mr Swinney face a vote of no confidence in him at Holyrood.

Mr Greer said: “I would propose a new model for the SQA board of management, one which draws upon a broad range of skills and experience within Scottish education.

“The voices of frontline educators and learners have been sorely lacking on a board which currently appears to include more management consultants than teachers.”

The Greens have said any new structure must see at least half of the board members be registered teachers.

Mr Greer added: “This should in no way be interpreted as my questioning the integrity or professionalism of individual board members, nor of the many hardworking staff at the authority, a number of whom have shared their concerns with me over recent years.

“It is however reflective of my recognising the extent to which this problem has grown.

“Bold action is required if the SQA is to regain the trust of those it exists to serve.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said the Scottish Government should form a “catch-up plan” to address coronavirus disruption in schools. 

He has called for the recruitment of 3,000 more teachers over the course of the next Parliament, at a cost of £550 million, as well as a national tutoring programme.

He also said extensive research should be carried out to understand the depth of disruption the virus has caused to education, as pupils endure a second period of schools being mostly closed.

The Scottish Government pledged to recruit a further 1,400 teachers last year, with statistics released in December showing a rise of 1,153 during 2020.

Mr Ross said: “We owe it to the younger generation to treat Scotland’s classroom crisis as a national emergency, and that is why our catch-up plan is so important.

“Children have missed out on months of proper schooling and the SNP’s remote education has been poor and patchy. A significant long-term catch-up effort is required to avoid creating a lost generation.

“The Scottish Government needs to invest in tutoring for the most disadvantaged, recruit 3,000 new teachers and conduct extensive and urgent research.

“These measures would ensure that no child misses out on opportunities due to the pandemic and they are all enabled to catch up and excel. Times are far from normal. It is time to think creatively.”

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Mr Ross said the tutoring programme should use the expertise of supply teachers, student teachers and other tutors to help the most disadvantaged children recover, with ring-fenced Government funds available.

More support should also be put in place for children at key educational transition stages, such as moving into primary or secondary school, he said, after a Scottish Government study found these pupils have been more impacted by Covid-19 disruption.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “SQA board members have a wide range of skills and experiences that allow them to function effectively with the SQA management team. They are appointed by ministers in accordance with an open, fair and merit-based public appointments process with all roles advertised and the appointment process independently regulated.

“The approach to assessment this year has been developed by the National Qualifications 2021 Group, which is led by SQA and brings together key education stakeholders. SQA also consults with practitioners, learners and others to help inform decisions.”

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