THE examination outcomes presented by the SQA in 2020 demonstrated single-digit improvement across schools. Presumably, the SQA endeavoured to demonstrate its best estimate of measured and justified improvement in examination outcomes, in circumstances when no examinations had occurred. The flaw in the system was clearly the indiscriminate treatment of pupils resulting in cases of unfair treatment of individuals performing exceptionally. The system should have been fit for purpose and able to capture these instances. It failed to do so and this is the basis of the case against the SQA.

However, the unique circumstances of no examination diet resulted in teachers grading at a level different to previous years. SQA’s moderation is carried out by serving or recent teaching professionals. These are experienced and knowledgeable people. The process measures performance and progress (or not) and is the accepted basis for national standards, consistency and international comparison. And, on the basis of the SQA’s judgment, we have not been doing that well, as we slide down the international league tables.

The basis of the SQA’s involvement is that it measures performance. It judges it but it cannot influence the outcome. But now, teacher engagement on a different basis has determined that there should be a step change, an increase in grades across the board. Circumstantially, there has not been a surge in teacher numbers, nor a teaching and learning transformation. Neither have we experienced a curriculum revolution, with schools still shackled to the feeble Curriculum for Excellence.

Yet under-performance has just been written off. The greater improvement has occurred in those areas of disadvantage and requiring forms of intervention. Yet that intervention has not happened. Somehow, at a stroke, there has been a structural improvement in Scottish education. Nicola Sturgeon’s dreams have been fulfilled through crude grade inflation. Political capital will be made of this, after all it’s the professionals themselves telling her this good news. Her Education Secretary had initially presented a different narrative, before the re-write. But for the first Minister it’s a double win: apparently improved education outcomes and the SNP-inclined votes of 16-18 year olds and their families salvaged.

In effect we are printing our own money, our education currency. Scottish education had a standard (recently a pretty tarnished rather than gold one) underwritten by a robust examination process. That’s just gone out of the window. When a currency, in this case qualifications, loses the trust of people, there is a flight to other currencies. Persisting with inflated grades will bring serious consequences. Universities and employers’ organisations will have reservations, clear questions about qualification integrity. Some schools might look to other awarding bodies and different qualifications, such as A Levels, because of a lack of faith in the new "system".

And we have the dilemma of how we approach examinations in 2021. Do these reflect the baseline realities of 2019 or the new radicalism of 2021? A shell-shocked SQA must be doubly confused.

Professor William Wardle, Glasgow G13.

I AM delighted that both Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney have had the courage to do what very few politicians of the other parties have ever had the sense or humility to do – to step forward, accept that there has been an injustice perpetrated and vow to put it right.

What does not delight me about the parties now demanding John Swinney’s head on a plate is that neither the First Minister nor John Swinney had any hand at all in causing that injustice. Had the published results been as wildly inflated, instead of downgraded, would there have been the same outcry? One could perhaps understand it if investigation had uncovered that he had a hand in deciding the grades.

In fact, all blame lies with the SQA, which must have loved the easy time of having no exam papers to mark and which did not even bother to mark the assignments which could have corroborated teachers’ gradings. That these teachers’ assessments tallied so poorly with the grades the SQA expected to give, in line with past years, leads me to suspect that the results in previous years had suffered from the same unfair system, which turns moderation on its head.

After all, moderation is supposed to be a means of recognising and making allowance for the fact that pupils from a deprived area have to work harder against greater odds to achieve a good grade than those from affluent areas and private education. What the SQA has done is tantamount to saying “OK, this kid is from a deprived area, his school doesn’t usually do well, so his teacher must have overestimated his ability. Let’s mark him down a bit.” How many able pupils, I wonder, have perhaps been unfairly treated like this in past years to give the school its poor reputation?

Where is Mr Swinney’s hand in this? It seems to me that all those supporting a call for his resignation are not really interested in the cause or effect of the debacle on pupils, but see this only as a chance to collect a longed-for SNP scalp. Never mind the kids, let’s get John Swinney.

L McGregor, Falkirk.

ON watching John Swinney’s statement to parliament two words came to the fore: humility and honesty. In reply to the statement, the Conservative education spokesperson Jamie Green demonstrated none of the aforementioned credentials and could not find it within his reply to acknowledge the steps that the Scottish Government have taken regarding this year’s exams.

During the last week the main opposition in Scotland, the Conservatives, came forward with no credible solutions, only criticism and had the audacity to suggest Mr Swinney’s statement today was the longest resignation statement without a resignation. The Scottish Government has demonstrated it is fully in touch with public concerns and is getting on with the day job.

Catriona C Clark, Falkirk.

FULL marks to Robert Wolfenden (Letters, August 11) for pointing out that "in the past 20 years there has never been a release of school examination results that met with universal acceptance".

Back in the mists of time, I was mortified to only get a B for Higher English, my best subject. A quarter of a century later, my son was pleasantly surprised to be awarded an A for Higher English, his weakest subject, but disappointed only to get marked B for Higher Art, considered to be his strongest subject.

Unfortunately, on neither occasion was John Swinney around to take the blame.

Ruth Marr, Stirling.

NICOLA Sturgeon's flagship policy on education is lying in tatters. She has had 13 years to get it right while the Scottish education system is sliding down the international tables while she acts as an apologist for the incompetent Mr Swinney.

It was she who said "Judge us on education".

We have.

She failed.


Allan Thompson, Bearsden.

THE real question is why we have an exam system which in normal years leads a huge number of children to perform below the level of which their teachers know them to be capable.

Dr Ian Johnston, Castle Douglas.

Read more: Swinney abandons SQA downgrades and lets pass rates soar after backlash