Councils should not be telling teachers to alter pupil grade boundaries based on data for previous years, the Education Secretary has said.

Addressing the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Shirley-Anne Somerville insisted that results awarded through the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) should be determined by "teacher judgement" of "demonstrated attainment".

It comes amid reports that councils have been telling staff to shift grade boundaries so that marks "match" school and local authority trends recorded in previous years before they are submitted to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Ms Somerville was asked what teachers should do if they are "instructed by their local authority to apply an algorithm and raise grade boundaries, thereby downgrading their pupil's results". 

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The Education Secretary said: “Mistakes were made last year in the use of algorithms at the SQA. So, this year there is no interference from the SQA or Education Scotland when you’re looking at what grade goes into the SQA.

“So whatever the school puts in for a pupil, that will stay that pupil’s grade. There’s no algorithm.

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“There is a quality assurance process at a local level, where at a local level, a local authority or a school can look at previous attainment... and ask teachers to verify that they are content with their original decisions.

"It is the teacher’s judgement, based on demonstrated attainment, that should set the mark, the grade, for this young person as we go through this process. So there is no place in this model for local authorities to instruct a teacher because the whole point of the ACM is that it’s based on demonstrated attainment and the teacher’s judgement of that demonstrated attainment."

The Herald: This year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled due to Covid-19. This year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled due to Covid-19.

Ms Somerville has also encouraged staff to contact her about the issue. 

"If there are any examples of that coming forward, or even if there’s any concerns from teachers that that’s what’s happening, then I absolutely would want to hear about that because that is not how the model is designed to work," she said.

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"That’s not what we all agreed, in the NQ21 Group [which designed ACM], how the model would work, so I would take that very seriously if there’s anything like that going on because it’s not how the model is designed to work.”    

Ms Somerville also said the planned reform of the SQA and standards body Education Scotland would be wide-ranging and ambitious.     

“On the aspects around the reform of SQA and Education Scotland, I’m really keen that we look at this properly," she said.

"This is not a piecemeal piece of reform, this is not a round the edges piece of reform. We absolutely need to get this right.

“And I’m determined to make sure we do that in a way where we’ve got teachers’ voices, parents’ voices and, very importantly as well, young people’s voices in this."

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She added: "I think one of the good things that we can take from what we’ve been doing in the pandemic is, actually, how we’ve worked collaboratively with stakeholders as we’ve gone through the education recovery group, and I want to keep that collegiate way of working going forward as much as possible.

“I really want to get into a space where we can start talking about what the solutions are and what the outcomes [are that] we want for young people - and what agencies we need to deliver those for young people. And, absolutely, teachers will have a voice in that."