REGARDING the 2020 SQA results, David McEwen Hill (Letters, August 7) hit the nail on the head in two ways.

First, while there has been considerable criticism of the results and the methodology used, few have proposed a realistic alternative. It is, however, worth looking at the options. The first one would have been not to certificate this year; that would have been a severe blow to candidates, effectively costing them a year of their life. The second option was to use centre evidence such as prelim materials, on which to base results. For this to happen even on the basis of sampling, this required a large number of examiners in markers’ meetings to set and enforce common standards, at a time when offices were shutting and the SECC was being converted to the Louisa Jordan. By default, if certification was to take place at all, it had to happen on the basis of centre estimates.

Using estimates by candidates’ own teachers has merits – the teachers know the candidates. It also has drawbacks – the teachers know the candidates. In addition, there may be pressure from parents. For whatever reason, in overall terms the raw estimates of passes provided by teachers were not at the level of around 75 per cent as in previous years, but nearer 90 per cent. This is the crux of the problem; if teachers had estimated in line with past awards, for their centres and overall, the fall-out would have been much less.

Here too it is instructive to look at the options. The SQA could have accepted all the estimates and certificated a uniquely high pass rate; in a year when there had been less teaching than in the past, this would have tainted the awards forever. Alternatively, SQA could have reduced all awards to previous levels; that would have meant almost no centre or pupils would have achieved their estimated grades; were there to be an appeals system in place, every candidate would have been eligible. That was not a sustainable position. The third option was to align awards on the basis of which centres had been most accurate in providing estimates in the past. While not perfect, there is no other game in town. The drawback in this system is that candidate performance is more variable and less predictable in areas of greater social deprivation; candidates face a range of pressures both inside and particularly outside school that impact on performance, especially in external examinations. This indeed is what happened but, again, there was no other viable option and it would seem that the SQA did apply some mitigation of these effects.

He was right on the second count too. Much of the criticism seems politically motivated. Unionists of all hues take an unseemly delight in blaming the SNP Government for this unfortunate coincidence of circumstances. Back in 2000, when StQA experienced another crisis, the blame was directed largely at the SQA, rather than the Labour-LibDem coalition which had foisted Higher Still upon it.

Laurence Cheyne, Bishopbriggs.

THE recent outcry over the SQA awards shows how biased, outdated and unfair this qualifications body is. Had all centres been downgraded then it would just have shown how distrustful it is of teachers. However, the unfairness of its awards is clearly evidenced by the fact that the predicted grades of private schools have been upgraded whilst those of secondary schools in less affluent areas have been downgraded.

Having worked in both sectors I know that not all pupils attending private schools are particularly clever. Indeed many parents choose to send their children there either because they are not especially clever, or because they do not have the aptitude for learning. I know that there are many exceptions to this and I also know that there are many pupils in state secondary schools who also are reluctant learners. However, I have also had the privilege and pleasure of teaching many pupils in state schools who have been truly gifted and have gone on to professions such as medicine, law and in academia itself. I am just thankful that their merit was not judged in such a cavalier fashion as the present students have been.

What this fiasco shows is that an examination of the SQA is long overdue. Having worked as a marker for it I found it a very heavy-handed and arrogant institution. No-one was ever allowed to question decisions about exemplar marked scripts we were given, even when some were very dubious. Now I mark for GCSE Literature and the attitude down south is very different. There, there is competition between examining bodies and, as a result, not only are markers treated as professionals, but our questions and, sometimes objections, are listened to and acted on. I think it’s about time that the monopoly of the SQA should be challenged.

Rita Carey, Glasgow G41.

NICOLA Sturgeon rejects criticism from Professor Lindsay Paterson, one of Scotland’s leading experts on education, that the basis for reducing grades had been “arbitrary”. So all of a sudden, Ms Sturgeon is an expert of equal standing on education. I know who I believe and so will thousands of school children in mostly deprived areas, who did well in their course work and prelims, but were strangely marked down and who don't believe her withering excuses either.

It is also very strange why this year the appeals process is free, which makes me think the SNP knew the results were skewed against our less well-off areas, and has very quickly granted free access to appeals.

Michael Miller, Falkirk.

PRESCRIBED text for John Swinney: The Leadership Class in Scottish Education by Walter Humes (1986). He's not the first (and won't be the last) education minister in Scotland to place his trust in our large educational institutions only to see it backfire - big time. When will they ever learn?

Derek Johnston, Wishaw.

Read more: Letters: The Government’s lack of respect for teachers is a disgrace