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Exam appeals ‘tilted in favour of private schools’

Figures show private schools three times more likely than state schools to query exam results

Exam appeals ‘tilted in favour of private schools’

Figures show private schools three times more likely than state schools to query exam results

Private schools were roughly three times more likely than state schools to appeal their pupils’ exam results this year, but just as successful when it came to getting upgrades, new figures show.

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray – who obtained the figures through a series of parliamentary questions – said it was clear the system was unfair and “tilted in favour of private schools”.

He said the gap in appeals between state and private school was now double what it was before the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) started charging for unsuccessful appeals in 2014.

The figures show that whilst state schools appealed just 2.4 per cent of exam entries, independent schools appealed 6.8 per cent. The figures are broadly similar to last year.

However, just because private schools are appealing more does not mean they are any less successful when it comes to getting their pupils' grades changed. The SQA data, showed that the percentage of upgrades as a result of requests received was 14.4 per cent for council schools and 14.1 per cent for the independent sector.

Overall, 2.7 per cent of exam entries this year resulted in an appeal, with 14.5 per cent of the requests resulting in a grade change either up or down (1,958 of 13,543 requests).

Mr Gray added: “Pupils across Scotland should have faith that if a teacher suspects their work is worth of appeal a decision will be taken on that merit alone, and not be dependent on their school’s already stretched finances.

“It is clear the system is unfair, tilted in favour of private schools, and this must end. It is indicative of a system that is not based on excellence nor equity.”

The SQA introduced charges, ranging from £10 to £40, for its “results service” in 2014.

The charges are only incurred if the appeal is unsuccessful and the new approach was broadly welcomed, with many believing the old system was used too widely. 

But there were fears that, if state schools had to foot the bill, they would be put off appealing results and their pupils would be disadvantaged.

A similar issue has been highlighted in England: a Tes investigation last year found independent schools were more likely to challenge exam results and be successful.

Earlier this year the incoming chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference – the head of the fee-paying Reigate Grammar School, in Surrey – said that independent schools in England should have to pay more to appeal against exam marks than state schools.

Shaun Fenton said it was a social justice issue that some schools in England representing “particular demographics” put in for low or no re-marks.

An SQA spokesperson said the post-results services were developed in consultation and agreement with all parts of the education sector; with support from the teaching unions, local authorities, and the independent sector. They ensured "fairness to all candidates", he said.

He continued: "SQA only accepts requests and payment for its post-results services from schools and colleges, never from individuals, and a charge will only ever be applied if there is no change to a grade following a clerical check, or marking review.

“SQA has provided schools and colleges with full guidance on the process of submitting reviews, and the Association of Directors of Education (ADES) has also provided a framework and a set of principles for all local authorities to use to bring consistency to school decisions about submitting post-results service requests to SQA. These principles have teachers’ professional judgement at their heart.”


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