EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney has signalled a major rethink of Scotland's exam results following mounting criticism and calls for him to resign or be sacked.

Mr Swinney said he has "heard the anger of students" and has been engaged in "detailed discussions over the way forward".

He said he will set out a "series of steps" to address concerns on Tuesday. The Scottish Government accepted it had got it wrong.

It follows days of controversy after this year's system, produced by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and approved by the Government, saw 26.2 per cent of grades changed during the moderation process based on criteria that included schools' historic performances – with a total of 124,564 pupils' results downgraded.

The pass rate for pupils in the most deprived areas was reduced by 15.2% from teacher estimates after the exam board's moderation, compared to a drop of just 6.9% for those from the most affluent backgrounds. It came after exams were cancelled due to Covid-19.

Mr Swinney, who is also the Deputy First Minister, said: “I have heard the anger of students who feel their hard work has been taken away from them and I am determined to address it.

“These are unprecedented times and as we have said throughout this pandemic, we will not get everything right first time.  

"Every student deserves a grade that reflects the work they have done, and that is what I want to achieve.

“I have been engaged in detailed discussions over the way forward and I know that we need to act and act quickly to give certainty to our young people.

“I will set out on Tuesday how we intend to achieve that.”

Scottish Labour previously said it would table a motion of no confidence in Mr Swinney.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said his party would support the move, insisting public confidence in Mr Swinney "has hit rock bottom".

It is understood the Greens told the Scottish Government they would also back a no confidence motion unless ministers delivered an urgent solution.

The party's education spokesman Ross Greer said: “I welcome John Swinney’s admission that the Scottish Government got this badly wrong. The wide-scale downgrading of working class young people was unacceptable and entirely avoidable, as the Scottish Greens warned over four months.

"The fairest, simplest solution is to trust the professional judgement of teachers, as the SQA and Government initially claimed they would before they adopted this awful postcode lottery system.”

Former first minister Jack McConnell yesterday issued a stark warning to Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Swinney over the exam results row, saying "get it fixed or go".

Meanwhile, former health secretary Alex Neil, the SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, pointed to next year's Holyrood election, saying “16- and 17-year-olds have votes and so do their parents, grandparents and families”.

He called the impact on poorer pupils “unforgivable”.

Pupils in Scotland will start to return to classrooms from Tuesday, with all students expected to be back full-time by August 18.

Scottish Labour's education spokesman Iain Gray said it had taken Mr Swinney "five days to even admit this fiasco is his responsibility".

He added: "The threat of a no confidence motion has seen him finally accept the fact that he got this badly wrong.

"This is no way to run an education system. Young people will have been left twisting in the wind for a week by the time he explains what action will be taken. He needs to go.”

The Scottish Tories have called for every pupil to have the chance to either take their existing result, take their prelim result or re-sit the exam as soon as possible.

The party's leader Douglas Ross said: “I agree with Alex Neil that downgrading pupils based on where they live is unforgivable.

“The futures of young people must be put first, ahead of these lofty arguments about the credibility of the system.

"If pupils have earned their grades in an exam, then they should receive those grades this year, considering the exceptional circumstances of the past six months.

“The answer to this scandal cannot simply be a lengthy appeals process going at a snail’s pace because the SQA don’t have the necessary resources.

“That’s not good enough and Scotland’s pupils and parents deserve far better. Young people cannot be held back any longer from getting on with training and university places.

“We’ve all got to be prepared to put country before party, as I have in the past, and Nicola Sturgeon must do that now and remove Mr Swinney."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Thousands of young people have endured much avoidable pain this week.

"An admission of error is step one in resolving this major issue but the detailed solution is what matters."