BBC Breakfast: Jon Kay challenges Gavin Williamson on exams
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This year, 87.3 percent of Scottish students achieved an A to C grade in their Highers, compared to 89.3 percent in 2020. But figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results show that the difference between the proportion of pupils from the wealthiest and poorest areas getting A grades at Higher has increased to 22.1 percentage points.
Ian Murray, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Labour MP for Edinburgh South, cited the figures and said Nicola Sturgeon has failed to support Scotland’s school pupils and teachers.
He said: “I know it’s been said before, but it really is worth remembering what Nicola Sturgeon promised the people of Scotland.
“Education and closing the attainment gap would be her ‘defining mission’, she said…
“Yet this year’s results show the gap growing once again. In fact, it’s rarely narrowed.
“There has been a total lack of leadership from the very top.”
Writing in Edinburgh News, Mr Murray, suggested Ms Sturgeon’s Government is at fault for a series of errors for Scottish students.
The First Minister’s “lack of leadership” led to, according to the Labour MP, “the late cancellation of exams, the shambolic roll-out of the Alternative Certification Model, and an appeals system which failed to take this year’s extraordinary circumstances into account.”
He then added: “Ahead of the recent election, the First Minister said her priority for this term would be tackling the scandal of child poverty.
“Labour shares that mission; it has always been our priority, which is why Gordon Brown and Tony Blair lifted millions out of poverty.
“But tackling this is much harder without closing the attainment gap.
“This education failure highlights the essence of Ms Sturgeon’s politics: when rhetoric is required, she delivers; when delivery is required, she has only rhetoric.”
In 2020, when exams were curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland’s National 5 exams were cancelled.
The SQA initially drew up results using a system which took teacher estimates for each pupil, then moderated them based on results from previous years.
However, this sparked outrage after 125,000 results were downgraded and claims were made the moderation system unfairly penalised children at schools which had historically not performed as well.
The Government subsequently agreed to accept the original teacher estimates of grades, and commissioned an independent review of the row.
National 5 exams were also cancelled this year, and were replaced with teacher assessments and coursework.
Ms Sturgeon’s Government was accused of “losing its way” on education in June after the First Minister could not confirm regular exams will return in 2022.
Tory leader Douglas Ross said SNP ministers had been sitting on an OECD report “for months” but had not offered clarity on what it would mean for pupils.
The report found secondary school pupils find lessons focused on memorising information needed for exams “boring”.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Mr Ross said: “That OECD report criticised the confusing and unhelpful communication given to schools,” he told MSPs.
“Is it really any wonder Nicola Sturgeon said she had full confidence in the SQA, so she scrapped it.
“It’s another example of a government that has lost its way on education. It says one thing and does another, with no real vision of where they’re going or how they get thing.”
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