Scotland enters Adjustment

We overuse words like "unprecendented" and "sensational", but there are few others to describe today's change to the SQA results.

At Holyrood, John Swinney announced that Higher and Advanced Higher students who had seen a reduction in grades between teacher estimates and moderated results would have their teacher estimates restored. Those who did better in the moderated results get to keep those marks.

There will be new university places (we don’t yet know where or how many) created to ensure that no student loses out on a place, and an independent inquiry – carried out by Stirling University’s Mark Priestly will examine the whole 2020 exam process – from the advice offered to awarding centres, instructions for generating teacher estimates, the moderation process, through to the impact on young people.

The statement offered a full apology to all students affected – noting that “young people felt their future had been determined by statistical methods”.

It is worth dwelling on quite how out of the ordinary this move is. Teachers estimate grades for students that are routinely higher than exam results, but no move has even been made to match results to those UCAS form predictions. For the class of 2020, 88.8 per cent of attainment at higher level is between grades A and C, up from 74.8 per cent last year. That’s a difference comparable to the difference between predictions on UCAS forms and exam results in any other year.

All eyes are now on England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. A level results have been calculated using a similar algorithm to that which was used by SQA and abandoned by the Scottish government. Ministers elsewhere in the UK will come under increasing pressure from students, parents, and advocates, to follow John Swinney’s lead.

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