I am not my postcode. Stop the postcode lottery. Justice for scheme weans. Not just slogans daubed on placards, but valid and deeply-felt expressions of injustice.

And also a warning to the political class that the young people affected by the ongoing SQA fiasco will not let this go away. How could they, why would they, when there is so much at stake?

For every teenager from a poorer area, each and every marked-down grade is a knife to the heart, pure and simple.

The Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) and Education Secretary John Swinney appear shocked that so many young people find it impossible to accept the explanation being offered for the “moderation” of grades, that it is all about their school’s past performance, computer modelling, algorithms and the wider credibility of the system, thus they shouldn’t take it personally.

But that’s exactly the problem. It is personal. Highly personal. As personal as it gets. As formative and emotional as it gets, since for many the joy or crushing disappointment of exam results day translates into real and tangible opportunities, roads opened or life chances blocked.

For many this one day is truly make or break. And that’s why, despite not knowing any teenagers involved in this debacle, I feel so deeply insulted by it. I see myself in every one of the youngsters protesting in George Square last week, as will all those from working class backgrounds whose lives have been transformed through education.

I’m not going to recount my own story in detail as it’s not particularly interesting or exceptional. Suffice to say I lived in a poorer area and went to a school that had no record of academic achievement. My mum and dad weren’t educated folk. In my fifth year I put the hard work in, received huge amounts of support from my teachers, found myself to be rather good at exams and achieved top grades.

It was a pivotal moment in my life. Those grades gave me the structure and confidence to move away from home and make the best of my university place, to feel less intimidated when I met people from more affluent backgrounds. They helped me work out who I might have the potential to be.

Had I been in the class of 2020, things would have turned out very differently, I’m sure. Going by the SQA criteria my As would almost certainly have been downgraded. There’s no way the algorithm would have awarded the top grade in Higher history I achieved, having started half way through the year without previously sitting the Standard Grade (I must thank my wonderful teacher, the late Maureen Laing, for her help). Who knows what would have happened with my French, which I remember putting Herculean efforts into the week before sitting the exam. There’s a fair chance I wouldn’t have got into a good university, or had the opportunity to study at post-graduate level. I suspect I may have settled for a different type of life.

I know many others whose life chances would have been similarly downgraded, some of whom contacted me over the last few days, completely outraged on behalf of the distressed young people we saw in media reports.

Nicola Sturgeon, another high-achieving working class youngster, is also one of the most emotionally intelligent politicians on the block. She knows fine well that regardless of how hard her ministers try to characterise this as a crisis about credibility and algorithms, it is no such thing. Fundamentally what this comes down to is fairness and feelings. Specifically, the deep, lasting hurt and insult that will be inflicted on an already disadvantaged group of young people – not to mention their parents – should things not be resolved satisfactorily. “Appeal if you’re not happy” was never going to be seen as anything other than a cop-out.

Ms Sturgeon must also understand that as long as the perception remains that it is the young people themselves being downgraded, not their marks, there can be no way out.

The painful memory of results day won’t fade any time soon for those affected, especially with the consequences likely to be stark in the post-Covid world.

Injustice burns forcefully in the young, and in the Class of 2020 it burns righteously. Ms Sturgeon must be careful it doesn’t raze her government in its wake.


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