By John-Paul Holden and Alistair Grant 

The leader of Scotland’s largest teaching union has said it is time to look at replacing the national exams body.

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the EIS, told its Annual General Meeting (AGM) that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had “undermined” the alternative certification model (ACM) set up to determine grades following cancellation of formal exams.

His remarks come in the wake of anger over this year’s assessment process, with fears that pupils have been forced to endure a treadmill of tests despite disruption to learning caused by Covid-19.

Mr Flanagan said the SQA had “unilaterally” issued subjection-specific guidance that pushed schools towards exam-style arrangements for gathering the evidence they use to decide provisional results.

He said he welcomed Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville’s recent announcement that the authority would be reviewed but added: “I think replacement is a stronger option.

READ MORE: Education Secretary warns against grade changes

“We need a qualifications body which is accountable to the profession and not one which thinks the profession is there to do its bidding.”

He went on: “When we went into the NQ2021 group [which designed the ACM], the key issue for the EIS, after last year’s algorithmic debacle, has been to insist that professional judgement should be at the centre of the model... We also argued it was for schools and teachers to decide what was appropriate evidence upon which to base professional judgement.

“We argued there was no need to run full, prelim-style assessments and that we should guard against the idea of one-off, high stakes events.

“All of that was actually agreed as parameters for the ACM but, as secondary [school] members [of the EIS] well know, that position was, frankly, undermined by the unilateral subject advice which the SQA issued – most of which advocated for a different approach, suggesting that only exam-style evidence was valid, and pushing people towards what is, effectively, an exam-by-any-other-name approach.”

HeraldScotland: The ACM was set up following cancellation of this year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams.The ACM was set up following cancellation of this year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams.

There are also growing fears that young people face a results lottery following reports that councils have been telling schools and teachers to adjust cut-off scores so they align with grades data from previous years.

One secondary school teacher in the Lothians told The Herald that “teachers are being given zero professional judgement”. They added: “Our grades must be evidence-based, meaning what schools are calling ‘formal assessments’ are exams in all but name. We are using the unused SQA papers from 2020 like most other schools, but schools have been given the freedom to move the grade boundaries.

“This means that we are taking an average of our school’s previous results and then scaling this year’s results to match before we send these results to the SQA. Pupils’ results are directly affected by their catchment area.”

The teacher continued: “I’m angry at the position teachers are being put in, I am fed up with politicians lying, I’m frustrated on behalf of my pupils and I think the public need to know."

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The journalist and lecturer James McEnaney shared messages from other teachers on Twitter. One said: "We were told to look at previous grades, not last year's, and try to work out the number of As etc and make sure it's similar, which is totally ludicrous considering these exams have not taken into consideration the children who were negatively affected by Covid."

Ms Somerville told the AGM: “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 Government later said it would treat “very seriously” any concerns about the model not being followed.

READ MORE: Sturgeon warned of second 'exams crisis' amid concerns over 'sleekit' system

A spokesman said the SQA welcomed and would play a “full part” in the review announced by Ms Somerville.

“The successful delivery of qualifications in Scotland relies on all parts of the education system working together in partnership," he added. "The Alternative Certification Model was co-created by the National Qualifications Group, which includes the EIS.”

Standards body Education Scotland was contacted for comment.