NICOLA Sturgeon has admitted her younger self would "very possibly" have been among teenagers planning to stage a protest over their exam results.

The First Minister said she understood the anger felt by pupils but stressed they can appeal their results and have their individual circumstances looked at. 

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Row over exam results.Camley's Cartoon: Row over exam results.

It comes after it emerged the pass rate for pupils in the most deprived areas was reduced by 15.2 per cent from teacher estimates after the exam board's moderation.

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In contrast, the pass rate for pupils from the most affluent backgrounds dropped by just 6.9%.

Teenagers are planning to stage a protest outside the Scottish Qualification Authority's (SQA) offices on Friday.

Ms Sturgeon went to Greenwood Academy in North Ayrshire, where the number of pupils achieving five or more Highers last year was below the national average.

During her regular coronavirus briefing, she was asked how she would have felt if her results had been downgraded due to the historic performance of her school, and whether she would have been among the teenagers planning to protest outside the SQA offices tomorrow. 

She said: "Very possibly."

The First Minister said she absolutely understood the anger and upset. 

She said: "I totally understand and sympathise and empathise with any young person who is in a position of having a grade awarded by the SQA that is lower than the teacher estimate."

She said the disappointment felt by pupils was "compounded this year because young people haven't got that objective exam to benchmark against".

Ms Sturgeon added: "If you're a young person whose teacher has estimated one grade and you've got a lower grade, you are going to feel very aggrieved about that. 

"I absolutely understand that. If I had been in that position, I would feel aggrieved about that."

She added: "I know how really horrible this will be for young people that are in this position. 

"If I was standing here and saying, 'Well, tough, that's it, just accept it,' then that anger would, quite rightly, be even greater.

"But I'm not saying that. There is another part of this process."

She stressed young people can appeal and have their individual circumstances looked at.

She said: "If you have been treated unfairly, that will be rectified through this process."

Erin Bleakley, 17, who has organised the pupil protest on Friday, said she hopes it will highlight how pupils living in areas of high deprivation were disproportionately impacted by marks being downgraded.

She said: "We deserve the same life chances as young people in affluent areas. 

"How can anyone expect to close the attainment gap when your hard work can be wiped out based on your postcode?

"There needs to be recognition that living somewhere that is termed an area of deprivation should not be something that prevents young people from progressing to further or higher education."

The teenager attends St Andrew's high school in Carntyne, Glasgow, which earlier this year was identified as being the second most deprived area in the country, according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

The protest is set to take place outside the SQA offices in Glasgow from 8.30am on Friday.

An SQA spokesman said: "This year's results will be cause for celebration for many people but disappointment for others. While this is a strong set of results overall - up on 2019 - this year is no different.

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"We would advise young people who feel they haven't got the grades they hoped for to speak to their school or college first.

"Our appeals process this year will be based solely on the evidence presented by the school or college, for that individual candidate, on a case-by-case basis.

"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."