Scottish education secretary Jenny Gilruth is to approach the SQA after becoming “concerned” by the loss of completed exam papers in a fire during the summer.

Following the incident, which took place in the home of an exam marker, a number of Higher History papers were damaged and could not be used.

This forced the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to activate a “contingency process” in order to award grades to some students.

News of this latest loss comes less than two months after the Herald reported that another collection of exam papers had been lost under similar circumstances.

The SQA had advised a number of schools that Gaelic-medium National 5 Modern Studies papers could not be used to award grades and asked for alternative evidence to be provided.

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The Herald can now confirm that both sets of papers were lost in the same fire.

Most English-language exam papers are scanned and marked electronically but History papers are treated differently, with paper packs sent to the homes of teachers employed to assess students’ exam responses.

The electronic marking system allows teachers to complete the task from their computers, meaning that physical copies of exam scripts can be held securely. It also allows the accuracy of a teachers’ marking to be checked throughout the process.

The SQA did not comment when asked to explain why Higher papers are not marked electronically.

The loss of the exam papers means that affected students’ final grades were determined following examination of ‘supporting information’ submitted by schools, although it is unclear exactly what material was used.

Speaking at the time of the loss of the Gaelic-medium papers, one teacher told The Herald that relying purely on information like prelim scores risked leaving some pupils at a significant disadvantage.

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An SQA spokesperson said: “We can confirm that a small number of History exam scripts were affected. When it became clear the scripts could not be marked, SQA invoked its established contingency process to ensure that we reached the best outcome for the candidates affected.

“We worked closely with the centres of the affected candidates throughout and asked them to submit supporting information regarding candidates’ performance to help fairly determine a final award.”

Asked why History papers were not marked digitally like other subjects, the spokesperson stated that “not all exam scripts are suitable for online marking.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The management of the exam diet is an operational matter for the SQA, who have established contingency process for candidates’ scripts that cannot be marked.

“Notwithstanding, the Cabinet Secretary is concerned by this reported incident. Whilst a small number of pupils have been affected, she will be raising this matter with the SQA directly to understand the processes in place to support those affected.”

2023 exam results revealed declining pass rates and an increasing gap between pupils from the wealthiest areas and those from the most deprived backgrounds.

The overall pass rate for Highers fell from 78.9% in 2022 to 77.1% this year. National 5 and Advanced Higher courses also recorded falling pass rates.

The attainment gap, as measured by the differences in the Highers pass rate for affluent and deprived students, now stands at 16 percentage points. This is lower than the 2019 figure but higher than other pre-pandemic years.