JOHN Swinney has been accused of “spinning a narrative to save his neck” after he asked officials to “do lots of digging” to show young people were not being impacted at the height of the exams fiasco.

This year’s exams diet was cancelled amid the pandemic by the Education Secretary, who was then forced into a u-turn and apology after thousands of students saw their initial teacher estimates downgraded.

The methodology used by the SQA impacted pupils from less affluent backgrounds more harshly as a school’s past performance was taken into account in moderation.

Professor Mark Priestly was asked to undertake an independent review of the situation, who has now reported back his findings.

In his report, Professor Priestly points to emails between the Scottish Government and the SQA which “suggests that this issue and its explosive implications for public opinion appear to have not been fully grasped by the SQA”, other than pointing to the appeals process.

He added: “Even at this late stage, the focus seemed to rest on presenting a positive picture (the attainment gap had closed in general terms) rather than seeking a fuller understanding of the nuances in the data.”

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A government email on August 6 shows that Mr Swinney “had asked that we do lots of digging in the stats to show how young people from deprived backgrounds have not been disadvantaged by the results”.

Labour has accused Mr Swinney of putting his political career ahead of students.

Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, Iain Gray, said: “This damning email shows the lengths to which the Deputy First Minister went to save his political career.

“This email makes it clear that when John Swinney realised what he had done, his first instinct was to spin his way out of trouble even as thousands of young people were suffering.

"The second most senior member of the Scottish Government should not be using his power to pressure civil servants into providing ammunition for his discredited narrative.”

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He added: “John Swinney should have spent the days following the grades fiasco apologising to students and making amends.

“Instead it has been revealed that not only did he spend this time spinning a narrative to save his neck, he pressured others to help do so.”

Professor Priestly has made a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government to avoid a repeat of this year’s row.

Professor Priestly called for next year’s National 5 exams to be cancelled, which has been confirmed by Mr Swinney.

In their place, Professor Priestley, has recommended a “nationally recognised, fully transparent and proportionate system for moderation of centre-based assessment” to replace the method used this year.

He insisted that schools, the Scottish Government and the SQA “faced an extremely difficult set of circumstances, within which there were no easy solutions”.

Professor Priestly added that “all parties involved in the process were found to have acted with integrity, with the best interests of students in mind”.

But his investigation found that “there is widespread criticism by respondents of SQA for a perceived lack of transparency and a failure to engage in participative development of solutions with stakeholders”.

He added:” There has been an erosion of trust/confidence in SQA amongst teachers and young people, and damaged relations in some cases between young people and their teachers.

“Our overall assessment is that, despite the extremely difficult environment for decision making, there are points in the process where different decisions may have led to better outcomes and at least partially avoided the controversy that ensued in August 2020.”