There will be joy for some and disappointment for others.

Results day is always a roller-coaster and feelings are no doubt running particularly high as certificates hit doormats and drop into digital inboxes today. 

While 2022 saw the return of “normal” exams after two years of Covid-related upheaval, there was nothing normal about the last 12 months. At one point, life seemed to be stabilising thanks to vaccines. Then the Omicron variant arrived, causing massive spikes in school absence rates and reigniting fears about learning loss.

Bosses at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) – who have been battling to repair their reputations after alternative certification sparked controversy in 2020 and 2021 - admit the situation often looked fragile as they prepared for this year’s diet. 

There has already been a furore over revision material that was branded unfair and shambolic when it was released in March. Critics flooded social media with comments about “insulting” study guides advising candidates to read questions carefully and telling them that six marks mean six separate points are required in an answer.

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There was also frustration about differences in the type of assistance offered. Some candidates were given advice on content that would or would not be tested while arrangements for a small number of courses allowed individuals to take notes into the exam hall. 

The SQA has insisted much of the feedback was positive, adding that variation in support was inevitable due to inherent differences between subjects and assessment methods. But the row only adds to a deepening sense – fuelled by developments during the pandemic - that Scottish education is riddled with shortcomings when it comes to ensuring all learners get a fair crack of the whip.

Although 2022’s exams seemed to go without major hitches, the results could well increase concerns over equity. SQA bosses revealed in February that, in recognition of ongoing disruption linked to the pandemic, they were prepared to be “generous” when setting grade boundaries (the minimum marks needed to get an A, B, C or D). They also said the expectation was that overall outcomes in 2022 would “represent an intermediary position” between 2019 – the last year a conventional diet took place prior to Covid – and 2021, when Higher and Advanced Higher A passes soared by nearly 20 per cent. 

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However, the SQA was later careful to underline that the term “intermediary position” did not refer to a statistical midway point or target for individual courses but rather a looser forecast that aggregate totals at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher level would be “somewhere” within the 2019-21 range. There was always scope, it would appear, for results to fall significantly towards trends recorded before the pandemic.

Agency bosses also said grade boundary adjustments were not needed for tests deemed to have the correct level of difficulty and which functioned as expected. If a panel observed specific challenges attributable to the pandemic, it made appropriate boundary changes.

The ways in which assessments were evaluated will become clearer when detailed course reports are published. They will be accompanied, no doubt, by fresh reminders from examiners about the importance of maintaining standards and the system’s integrity. But given the widespread impact of Omicron and its sub-variants, there is certain to be anger over any perception that candidates were treated harshly or that some individuals missed out unfairly on the benefits of grading generosity.