THE Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is set to be overhauled as ministers bid to quell growing anger over its performance – and despite Nicola Sturgeon telling Parliament the agency has her full confidence.

Critics were quick to attack the contradiction between the First Minister’s comments on Thursday and reform proposals announced shortly afterwards by Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Oliver Mundell, of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “Trying to tinker round the edges at reforming the SQA simply isn’t good enough. The SQA isn’t fit for purpose and must be axed.

“The SNP can’t have it both ways. Nicola Sturgeon said she had full confidence in the SQA, yet a couple of hours later her Education Secretary announces that she wants to reform the SQA after its continued failures.

“That will hardly inspire confidence among pupils, parents and teachers who the SNP have continually let down.”

READ MORE: SQA and Education Scotland to be reformed

Moves that could lead to major change at the exams authority and standards body Education Scotland (ES) were unveiled alongside a package of other measures aimed at driving learning recovery in the wake of Covid-19.

Ms Somerville told MSPs the “role, remit and purpose” of both organisations would be considered, as well as their functions and governance arrangements.

Her announcement comes amid deep anger over the alternative certification model, which has led to young people enduring a gruelling treadmill of assessments.

The controversy has been fuelled by plans for this year’s appeals process, with many pupils and their families outraged that a challenge could result in grades being revised up or down.

Critics also want the system to include provision for those looking to appeal on the grounds of exceptional individual circumstances.

HeraldScotland: Reform plans were announced at Holyrood by Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.Reform plans were announced at Holyrood by Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Cameron Garrett, who serves as a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, claimed the voice of young people was not heard when the scheme was being devised.

He tweeted: “As the only young person who sits on @sqanews’s NQ21 group I have not had an equal input into discussions around the appeals process this year.

“Young people have been let down and ignored by this process.”

Liberal Democrat Beatrice Wishart said: “The SQA and Education Scotland are simply not fit for purpose. Their shortcomings should have been addressed long ago.

“Without fundamental reforms grounded in the teacher profession, we are set for more of the same.”

Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens was also strongly critical, describing the SQA as an organisation that “doesn’t trust teachers or pupils, that doesn’t welcome constructive criticism, which has systemic issues with transparency, and which still quite clearly does not believe last year’s grading algorithm was a mistake”.

READ MORE: Universities say admissions plan 'risks Scottish schooling'

Union leaders welcomed news of the review.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We have for some time been arguing for reform of the SQA and, in particular, the need for a stronger governance model which would see the qualifications authority more accountable to the Education system and the profession, rather than to the Scottish Government or an opaque, Government appointed, Board.

“With regard to Education Scotland the key issue is to create more independence for this body and move it closer to its role of supporting schools and teachers rather than being under the direction of the Scottish Government. Education Scotland should be free to challenge Government rather than being an extension of the civil service.

“There also needs to be a significant review of the usefulness of the current inspection process in what is meant to be an empowered education system.”

HeraldScotland: SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.

SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson said: “I welcome the review announced today by the Cabinet Secretary and SQA will play a full part in that review. Our focus remains on working with the whole education system to support our young people to get the qualifications they deserve this year.

“The successful delivery of qualifications in Scotland relies on all parts of the education system working together in partnership. It is important that our qualifications meet the needs of learners and employers, and support our economic recovery.”

An Education Scotland spokeswoman said: “We are confident in the work that we do in supporting Scotland’s children and young people and we see this announcement as an opportunity to continue that good work with a strong focus on developing education in Scotland to be the best that it can be.”