THE chief executive of Scotland's qualifications authority has launched a robust defence of how results were awarded this year as she failed to apologise to pupils and their families.

Fiona Robertson insisted the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had done its best to carry out the instructions of the Scottish Government.

She said evidence showed fewer than 50 per cent of teacher estimates were accurate last year, so the SQA had a "responsibility" to consider moderation.

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Ms Robertson also said she had received messages from "many young people" saying how pleased they were with their results last week. 

Elsewhere, she confirmed an SQA statistician had resigned during this year's results process but said she was "not privy to the full details" around this.

Exams were cancelled for the first ever amid the coronavirus crisis, and the SQA was tasked with awarding grades using teacher estimates and a system of moderation.

Both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney have now apologised for how this was handled following a huge backlash from pupils and their families.

They performed a "humiliating" U-turn yesterday, abandoning the downgrading of almost 125,000 exam results.

Mr Swinney said teacher estimates alone would be used to set grades this year given the "unique" circumstances created by the coronavirus crisis, meaning there will be an unprecedented double-digit jump in national pass rates.

The SQA's moderation system, which drew on schools' previous results to alter grades, has been completely scrapped despite months of planning.

The downgrades had hit the most deprived pupils hardest, sparking widespread outrage. 

Ms Robertson was grilled by MSPs on Holyrood's Education and Skills Committee.

She said the SQA was commissioned to come up with an alternative certification model "to ensure that the hard work of young people across Scotland was fully recognised".

She said maintaining standards over time was a key element of that and was essential to the approach taken.

She said: "The key input to our alternative certification model has been based on estimated grades. 

"Research tells us that school and college estimates are not always accurate. Estimating accuracy varies across centres, subjects and courses."

She said 48% of estimated National 5 grades were accurate in 2019, alongside 44% of Higher estimates and 43% of Advanced Higher estimates.

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She added: "This is an important part of the case for moderation of grades.

"We knew that evidence of the accuracy of teacher estimates was below 50%, and given the commission from ministers we had a responsibility to consider moderation of teacher estimates where appropriate."

Ms Robertson said that given the importance of estimates this year, "considerable efforts" were made to assist teachers. 

She said: "On August 4, the SQA accepted almost three-quarters of teacher and lecturer estimates and 99% of awards were awarded at or within one grade of the estimate."

She added: "We treated those estimates with the utmost respect."

She said that "on the basis of the commission we received from the Scottish Government, there was a clear and unequivocal case for some moderation".

But the SQA boss insisted schools and colleges "were not seen as postcodes at all", and appeals were a "very important stage".

She said the moderation system saw the attainment gap between the richest and poorest pupils narrowed. 

Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene pointed out that both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister had apologised for this year's exam fiasco but the SQA had not.

Ms Robertson said: "Of course, it was very difficult to see the reaction to last week's results, but we were asked to fulfill a role. Part of that role was to maintain standards across Scotland."

She added: "It was a commission from ministers after exams had been cancelled – and in an extraordinary set of circumstances, I think we would all acknowledge – and I think we did our very best to deliver.

"But I also fully appreciate that...young people felt that their achievements had been taken outwith their control. 

"I absolutely get that and of course I regret how young people have felt about this process.

"However I think it's also important to highlight that I've had messages from many young people over the last week saying how pleased they are with the outcome. 

"So I think it's absolutely important to temper, quite clearly the strong feelings from young people across Scotland who feel that they've been unfairly treated, with the delight from others who feel they have got awards that reflect their achievements."

Elsewhere, Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer asked if an SQA statistician had resigned during the process. 

Ms Robertson replied: "I understand one of our statisticians did resign, absolutely, yes."

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Mr Greer then asked if they had resigned because they were concerned about the process. 

Ms Robertson said: "I'm not privy to the full details of that particular individual and it probably wouldn't be appropriate for me to go into that, in fairness to them, actually."

Later, she said there has obviously been a "very significant human cost arising from the events that we've all experienced over the last few months".

She added: "But it is also important to say joy and disappointment is a feature of results day. 

"There were unique differences this year which served to magnify the sense of disappointment and I fully appreciate and understand that.

"In terms of learning lessons, of course many parts of the public sector will wish to learn lessons from the work that it has had to do over the last few months. 

"The SQA is no exception to that."