PUPILS whose qualifications have been downgraded by the SQA will not be able to sit exams to improve their results amid calls for examination bosses to be hauled in front of MSPS to explain their reasons for lowering thousands of marks.

After this year’s exams were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers were asked to estimate pupil grades.

But the SQA moderated pupils’ grades, ensuring marks were “assessed against that centre’s historical attainment for that grade on that course” - as well as ensuring “the national attainment level for each grade for that course matched historical attainment levels”.

The SQA’s methodology used for adjusting grades has been to ensure they are kept within “the tolerable range” based on a school’s past achievements - leading to amolst 124,000 entries being adjusted down.

But there are fears that the basis for downgrading pupils’ marks, based on how well their school has performed previously, has impacted more harshly on pupils from more deprived backgrounds.

More than 85 per cent of Highers were graded between A and C by teachers at schools in Scotland’s most deprived areas, but were downgraded by more than 15 per cent by the SQA moderation.

READ MORE: SQA under fire after thousands of pupils' grades lowered based on schools' past performance

For the same results at Scotland’s least deprived areas, less than seven per cent of the grades were downgraded.

Education Secretary John Swinney said he had no plans to allow pupils who believe they have been unfairly penalised to resit exams to better their performance, but instead can use the “appeal mechanism”.

He added that if the teacher estimates were “within reasonable parameters” they were not altered by the SQA but “only when it comes to the exercise of moderation does the SQA look at particular past performance”.

He said: “If a young person believes that they have not had the result for which they have the evidence that were entitled, then they should appeal as part of this process.

“We are creating the space and the opportunity for young people to appeal any results with which they are dissatisfied to make sure that in these very unusual circumstances, young people are able to exhaust every opportunity to get satisfaction about the results to which they think they are entitled.”

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The First Minster pointed to the situation if teacher estimates had been left unmoderated, warning that a “20 per cent increase in a single year is unprecedented and therefore not credible”.

She added: “We have and we know we have an attainment gap in education – poorer young people don’t do as well as more affluent young people. That is something we are working very, very hard from the early years right through our school system to try to rectify.

“This system of moderation that has been required this year is not what is causing that attainment gap.

“If we hadn’t had that system of moderation, I would be saying that 85 per cent of young people in our most deprived areas had passed Highers this year compared to around 65 per cent last year and in previous years.”

But the Scottish Greens have called for the SQA to explain their reasoning for the moderation in front of a Holyrood committee.

Ross Greer, Scottish Greens education spokesperson, said: “Ross Greer MSP said: “I have been contacted by senior staff at schools who have seen over 90 per cent 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 judgement when in some schools they have ignored almost every professional judgement that teachers have made?

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“Pupils are having their futures disadvantaged and it seems to be for no other reason than they school they go to – this is frankly disturbing and grossly unequal. The Scottish Greens warned that this would happen but the SQA and Scottish Government refused to listen.”

He added: “I have already proposed that the SQA come before Parliament’s Education Committee immediately to explain their system and the secrecy they have shrouded it in until today.

“The Education Secretary also has questions to answer. He must clarify exactly why he has allowed the SQA to do this, and how exactly he will resource schools and colleges to undertake the huge amount of appeals that will inevitably result from this flawed system.

“Closing the attainment gap between our most and least disadvantaged young people is supposed to be this government’s top priority. Sadly, the opposite has been allowed to happen today.”

Scottish Conservative education spokesperson, Jamie Greene, added: "Almost 20 years to the day, the SNP stamped up and down and blamed the Scottish Executive for an exams crisis. But now, John Swinney seems unwilling to accept responsibility for this latest SQA disaster.

"It is fundamentally unfair to make assumptions about a pupil based on where they live.”

He added: "It risks widening the attainment gap to an almost unassailable degree.

"The 2020 SQA results may equally go down in history as a shambles with the SNP at the helm of it, and the people who will suffer most are this generation of Scotland’s pupils who facing a horrendously uncertain time in the days ahead."

An SQA spokesman said: “The most disadvantaged young people have achieved better results in 2020 compared to both 2019 and the average results for the last four years.

“At Grades A to C, the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged young people is also narrower this year for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher than for last year or the average gap for the last four years.”