JOHN SWINNEY has been urged to ensure Scotland's exams body does not add to distrust in this year's results by using more controversial methods for the appeals process.

Labour demanded that appeals be judged solely on individual pupil performance, not adjusted in light of wider data trends.

It warned that if the same "discriminatory framework" applied to grades also became a factor in appeals it would destroy confidence in the system.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) this week issued estimated grades for pupils after exams were cancelled for the first time in more than a century because of the coronavirus.

READ MORE: Protest and petition launched after 'classist' grading system

Although overall pass rates were up from 2019, the SQA downgraded 120,000 results because of "significant overestimation" by teachers. Defending the so-called "moderation" process, Nicola Sturgeon said the original teacher estimates were "not credible", and would have inflated the pass rates to unrealistic levels.

Because the over-estimation was greatest for students from the most deprived parts of Scotland - up 20 percentage points on 2019 for Highers - the SQA downgrading also hit those students Continued on Page 6 Continued from Page1 hardest, adjusting the pass rate from an initial 85.1 per cent to 69.9%. initial 85.1 per cent to 69.9%.

This was twice the adjustment for pupils from the most affluent areas, whose results were downgraded from an initial 91.5% to 84.6%.

The SQA methodology drew on previous year's trends for individual schools, leading to claims current pupils were suffering for the results of former students.

The SQA is now offering a free case-by-case appeals service, which is expected to be deluged by tens of thousands of pupils whose schools feel they were unjustly treated.

Mr Swinney said yesterday he accepted some results would "cause disappointment", but denied bright pupils from poor areas were being unfairly marked down because of their school's track record.

Teachers are being asked to submit "alternative evidence" to back up their initial estimates by August 14 for pupils waiting on university places and by August 21 for all other students. Priority results are due back by September 4, and the rest at a date yet to be announced.

As the current pass rates are based on all 120,000 downgrades being correct, a wave of successful appeals could raise the pass rates back towards a "not credible" level.

Labour said the process must be driven by individual cases, not the national picture or the past performance of someone's school.

MSP Iain Gray said: "The Deputy First Minister must commit to ensuring the appeals process does not judge pupils by the same twisted criteria. Otherwise the pupils from deprived backgrounds will continue to be marked down based on the past performance of their schools.

"There will be no confidence in the appeals system unless the SQA publishes appeals guidelines that make clear this discriminatory framework has been abandoned."

Moray MP Douglas Ross, who became the new Scottish Tory leader yesterday, also made the SQA row a central part of his first speech in charge of the party.

READ MORE: Demands for SQA to explain moderation as downgraded pupils will not be able to resit exams

"The nervous wait for results ended for too many - particularly for those from more disadvantaged areas - in disappointment, confusion and anger," he said.

"This week one in every four exam entries were downgraded.

"We now need the Scottish Government to pull out the stops to ensure the appeals process is accelerated, so young people have clarity as quickly as possible."

The SQA said it had published detailed guidance on the free appeals process and on what evidence would be considered and the methodology involved, but refused to say what would happen if a surge in successful appeals affected the national pass rates.

"The process will be based solely on the alternative evidence presented by the school or college, for that individual candidate, on a case-bycase basis. Reviews will be carried out by senior subject specialist SQA examiners, who are practising teachers or lecturers. Historic appeals data will not form part of this year's process."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The SQA have confirmed that appeals will be based solely on their individual merit, based on the evidence presented by the school or college for each candidate.

“Scotland’s exams have never previously been cancelled, so the SQA had no alternative but to put in place an alternative certification model this year.

"Moderation is an annual process and ensures the integrity of awards and fairness to learners over time - which is ultimately for the benefit of learners themselves.

“Teachers and lecturers applied their professional judgements and three out of every four grade estimates were not adjusted by the SQA.

“The SQA results show a narrowing of the gap between the most and least disadvantaged young people attaining grades A-C compared to last year, and to a level below the average for the last four years.

“There is a free appeals process this year to give schools and colleges the chance to present evidence in support of teacher and lecturer estimates, and we would encourage any young person who disappointed by their results to discuss with their school.

“Deputy First Minister John Swinney will make a statement to Parliament next week.”