THE fiasco surrounding this year’s exam results must surely be the final nail in the coffin, not only for the hapless and inept John Swinney, but also for the current Scottish education system, which has lurched from one crisis to the next under this SNP administration.

Having resolutely defended the initial release of marks over the past week, the humiliating U-turn made in the parliament ("Swinney ‘humiliated’ as 125,000 results upgraded", The Herald, August 12) creates as many problems as it solves. The credibility of a nation’s education system is based mainly on its examination processes and is the point at which international comparisons are often made. Those looking in from abroad must draw the conclusion that the robustness of the Scottish system has vanished and, in its place, are standards that should be openly questioned. Last week pupils who had worked hard were disadvantaged by the system put in place, today that situation has not changed as many pupils have been given awards that ultimately would not have been justified in normal circumstances due to gross inflation/negligence by school staff. Despite assurances to the contrary from the SNP, the results for 2020 cannot, by any sensible logic, be seen as comparable to years gone by. We now have a situation where a year of "record" results will be followed next year by unparalleled decline.

Very little mention has been made of those schools and teachers who hugely inflated their pupils’ performance, which in no small part is at the heart of the issue. This deception and lack of professionalism is truly breath-taking and highlights how the once-strong Scottish system has been hijacked by a combination of suspect moderation procedures and bully tactics by the EIS. This needs to be front and centre of any review, though how independent this will be is anyone’s guess.

As someone from a "deprived" area, I knew the value of education and the need to work hard to get on in life. As a result, I have been involved in education for more than 25 years, most of these in the classroom and I visit schools on a regular basis. I am sure there will be the usual protestations from teachers and the unions to this sort of letter, but those like myself who remember what our system once was and could be again look on utterly appalled. If the Cabinet Secretary had any honour, he would resign immediately, but as a career politician, I am sure his only thoughts are how to dig the SNP out of yet another hole.

John Campbell, Glasgow.

NATURAL justice required that the Government reverse the iniquitous "moderation" process applied this year, by the SQA, to teacher-based student assessments. The decision should be welcomed. But this is merely a first step to what needs to be the most fundamental reform.

A claim that this decision will destroy the "credibility" of end of schooling certification in Scotland, because it is unfair to those who earned their grades in previous years, is woefully misinformed. There is an important historic injustice to be addressed but it is not that those who earned so-called "good" grades in the past have had these devalued by the awards in 2020. It is that the SQA system that so grossly underestimated the achievements and performance of learners this year, has been doing the same thing to students, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds, for at least 40 years.

Evidence of predictive validity – the extent to which end of schooling grades correlate with subsequent performance in either higher education or employment – is conspicuous by its absence. If employers and universities base their admissions processes on grades earned through external examinations alone, they are truly "buying a pig in poke".

The reductionist myth that it is possible to devise a "national" examination system that can accurately and fairly assess, at the end of formal schooling, the multifarious skills and abilities of young people and convert these into meaningful numerical scales is plainly erroneous. The counter argument is that national assessments merely serve as an elaborate – but grossly unfair – social sorting process. This means that those with sufficient funds to live in "leafy suburbs", employ private tutors or patronise independent schools, can ensure the progress of their offspring to the most prestigious universities and careers.

What would be a genuine insult to credibility would be a return, after this year, to the previous system. It is welcome that there is to be an immediate inquiry. What this process needs to do is open to public scrutiny the assumptions and processes that have led us to this sorry state. What we do not need is another, glacially-slow-moving bureaucratic grand committee, led by the "great and good" and stuffed with nominees from education quangos – such as HM Inspectorate, Education Scotland and the SQA. The unimaginative institutional groupthink of these bodies is a major cause of the problems we face – they are most unlikely to spawn a solution.

We should congratulate all those learners who earned their awards in this difficult year. We must also acknowledge a debt to the young people who took to the streets to protest at the injustice done to them. In this they have alerted a much wider community to the source of serious inequalities in Scottish society. It would be to betray these young people, if those who can do not now ensure that this system is changed.

Jim Rand, Blanefield.

THE hagiographical accounts by contributors on today’s Letters Pages (August 12) of the Damascene conversion of humble saint John Swinney on the road to next May’s elections, paled into insignificance against the more accurate and sober judgement of your columnist, Iain Macwhirter, who rightly identified Swinney’s performance, not that of the SQA, as the fiasco ("All shall have prizes in great exams U-turn except Swinney", The Herald, August 12).

The decision by Mr Swinney, with the encouragement of his party leader, to complete a volte face over the exam results, is naked populism, based on a fear that droves of 16-17 year olds and their families might desert the SNP at the ballot box next May. It smacks of total panic and complete capitulation.

An independent body of markers will, in my opinion, always be best placed to grade exam results. This is because, unlike teachers marking their own pupils, independent markers have no emotional ties with the pupils they are grading, and therefore can mark dispassionately and objectively; no vested interest in the school doing well, and possibly rising up educational league tables, and use a standardised system across the whole of Scotland, not one applied differently in each school, by each teacher, most of whom, no doubt, will have had little experience of objectively grading course work.

In times of crisis, one expects one’s political leaders to maintain a cool head in the penalty box. Instead of that, the SNP has gone into a blind panic and, at a stroke, has degraded this year’s exam results and potentially put the future of the SQA in doubt.

A definite "E" grade performance from Mr Swinney and Ms Sturgeon, Must try harder, I think is the phrase that best applies here.

Stuart Brennan, Glasgow G44.

HOLYROOD has descended through farce into some form of infantile Punch and Judy Show where the aim is to score points and humiliate opponents rather than to further the interests of the general public. John Swinney was handed the poisoned chalice of exam results and was going to get a kicking irrespective of what he did. Imagine the furore if the original announcement showed pass-rates had soared to the now readjusted level; there would have been demands that the outrageous results were downgraded as being unrealistic and that Mr Swinney should go.

Why isn’t the finger of accusation being pointed at the SQA for having an assessment system where the exam results are so out of alignment with the estimations of teachers in both the private and public sectors who actually know the students? One-off exams are an imperfect form of assessing ability, we all know/knew “smart” people who were good at passing exams but who couldn’t put a nut in the proverbial monkey’s mouth; what I can’t understand is how so many of them end up as politicians and civil servants.

David J Crawford, Glasgow G12.

THIS week I wrote about the inequity facing poor students whose success was capped by statistics not merit ("Class of 2020 has been failed by callous decision-makers", The Herald, August 11). We have now seen the Education Secretary apologise and share how long he knew about issues. Significant issues have been facing education for some time now around assessment, inequity, culture and governance. The announced retrospective review of the most recent crisis may collate issues. These were rightly raised by academics calling out issues. Some issues sadly remain now for eternity – teachers' judgment was questioned and some students got uplifted grades because the system rewarded rich, high-attaining schools.

However, where are the forward-looking improvements? Education reform in Scotland has been spasmodic and unsatisfactory. One academic suggested only a third of reforms were successful. Furthermore there is still no date for the OECD review. Why can’t this happen remotely? Indeed, Scottish education missed a wider opportunity during this crisis. Shifts to school online learning and other much-needed reform have not taken place. Change theories note the positive impact urgency can bring. It seems improvements for our young people are not changing fast.

Neil McLennan, Senior Lecturer and Director of Leadership Programmes, University of Aberdeen.

IF John Swinney considered it was correct to do another spectacular U- turn by ignoring the SQA downgrades and restoring the better grades proposed by the teachers, what is his justification for simultaneously accepting the upgrades proposed by the same SQA and ignoring the worse grades proposed by those same teachers? Clinical political hypocrisy on display?

Alan Fitzpatrick, Dunlop.

WHY is it when ordinary people change their minds it’s described as such and when politicians do the same in response to appeals it’s a "humiliating climbdown? Small wonder that few want to enter politics when such a level of perfection is expected.

Dave Stewart, Glasgow G11.

Read more: Letters: The credibility of Scottish education is now at risk