Fewer students are requesting checks of exam scores

Concerns remain that the end of the former appeals system means many students aren't receiving the grades they deserve

Henry Hepburn

Fewer students are requesting checks of their exam scores in Scotland

Requests to use Scotland's "post-results service" – which replaced traditional exam appeals in 2014 – have dropped off slightly, new figures show.

This year, 2.3 per cent of exam entries led to a request for a "clerical check" or "marking review", down from 2.7 per cent in 2017-18 and 2.8 per cent in 2016-17.

The post-results service has proved controversial because prelim exams taken earlier in the year can no longer be used to boost grades, because payment is required and because pupils at independent schools have been far more likely to request a check or review under the new system.

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Of the 497,926 entries in 2018-19, figures published today showed there were 11,528 requests (2.3 per cent of all entries) either for a marking review (which accounted for 96.6 per cent of all requests) or a clerical check.

Some 14.6 per cent of all requests in 2018-19 resulted in a grade change (1,685 of 11,528 requests), slightly up from 14.5 per cent in 2017-18. The 2016-17 figure was 16.5 per cent.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) introduced charges ranging from £10 to £40 as part of its new “results service” in 2014, which were only to be incurred for unsuccessful appeals.

The new approach was welcomed by many at the time, who said the old system was groaning under the weight of thousands of speculative appeals. But fears have since emerged that, if state schools had to foot the bill, they would be put off asking for reviews or checks and their pupils left at a disadvantage.

Figures obtained by Labour education spokesman Iain Gray last year showed that independent schools were approximately three times more likely than state schools to appeal their pupils’ exam results.

Writing forTes Scotland last December, Melvyn Roffe, principal of George Watson's College in Edinburgh, agreed that the system was unfair, as "there must be thousands [of students] who did better than their grades suggest but who will never know it".

Rather than take aim at the independent sector, however, he said critics should focus on quality-assurance processes and transparency, and push for all exam scripts to be made available to teachers and candidates after marking.

Three services are available to Scottish schools and colleges through the post-results service:

  • Clerical check – ensures all marks were correctly totalled.

  • Marking review – exam materials are reviewed by a senior examiner to ensure the original marker followed the agreed marking scheme and the exam paper was marked to the nationally agreed standard. This includes a clerical check.

  • Priority marking review – the same as a marking review, but prioritised and mainly used for candidates who have a university place pending on the outcome.

There is also an "exceptional circumstances consideration service", which operates before results are published in August and takes into account circumstances such as bereavement or illness. This year, more than 4,000 exceptional circumstance requests were factored into the results in August.

Fiona Robertson, SQA chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer, said: “SQA’s post-results services allows schools and colleges to query candidates’ results if they believe they are unexpected, and it is right for schools and colleges to have that opportunity on behalf of their pupils. Our approach to checking the marks awarded to candidates across the country remains high-quality, rigorous and fair."

She added: “Our post-results services were designed in consultation and partnership with stakeholders throughout Scotland’s education community. Again, we have shown that our commitment to delivering Scotland’s national qualifications to the highest possible standard is at the heart of all our activities.”

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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