Exam appeals system 'loaded in favour of pupils in private schools', says Labour

5th December 2017 at 16:06
Scottish private schools are more likely than state schools to challenge the marks their pupils receive in national exams, new figures show

New figures show that independent schools are almost three times more likely than state schools to challenge the marks their pupils receive in national exams, fuelling fears that now Scottish schools have to pay for appeals, “the system has been loaded in favour of pupils in private schools”.

The figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) show that independent schools appealed 7.4 per cent of exam results, compared with 2.5 per cent of results that were appealed by council-run schools.

The patterns mirror those in England: a Tes investigation earlier this year found independent schools were more likely to challenge exam results and be successful.

Controversial figures

The Scottish figures are controversial because the SQA started charging fees, ranging from £10 to £40, for its “results service” in 2014.

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.

This year, the SQA received 14,536 requests for either a marking review or a clerical check – meaning that around 3 per cent of exam entries were appealed.

In total 11,503 of the requests for a review came from state schools; 2,746  from independent schools; 267 from colleges and 20 from other centres.

The reviews requested by private schools were just as likely to be successful as those from state schools, with around 16 per cent of review requests overall resulting in a grade rising – down from 19 per cent last year.

Only two review requests from private schools and six from state schools resulted in a grade going down.

'Paying the price'

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray said that Labour had been pointing out the unfairness of the system for years and called on the Scottish government to “fix it right now”.

Mr Gray said: “Ever since the SNP government started charging schools and councils for exam 're-marks', the system has been loaded in favour of pupils in private schools. 

"They can simply pay to have their grade looked at again, while in state schools very few pupils now get the chance.  A grade in a Higher can mean the difference between getting into university or not, so this is just one more advantage these already advantaged pupils have.

"This is an unfairness entirely of the SNP's making and they could fix it right now.  It is solely designed to save the SQA money, and state school pupils are paying the price.”

Speculative appeals

The new approach to appealing pupils exam results was introduced in 2014 in a bid to cut down on speculative appeals which were proving to be a drain on SQA resources.

The year before the new system was introduced, the SQA received 67,000 requests for reviews of results – meaning that about 7 per cent of exam entries were appealed.

Fewer than half the appeals were successful and the process cost the body almost £800,000.

Under the new system schools only pay for a review or a check if the pupil’s grade remains the same.

Official response

Dr Janet Brown, SQA chief executive, and Scotland’s chief examining officer, said: “Our approach to assessing qualifications is high-quality, rigorous and fair for all candidates. However, it is right that schools and colleges have the opportunity to query results on behalf of their learners and ensure that their efforts are correctly rewarded.

“Our Post Results Services, which were designed in partnership with stakeholders throughout Scotland’s education community, have again shown that at the heart of all our activities is a commitment to delivering the highest possible standard of national qualifications.”

The Scottish government, meanwhile, said it was clear that no pupil should be denied access to the appeals service on the grounds of cost – whether they attended a local authority or independent school.

The government spokesperson added: "A request should only be made when the school has a legitimate query about a candidate’s results, based on the professional judgment of teachers and head teachers.

“Advice has issued from education directors to make this clear, as well as being shared with independent schools by the Scottish Council of Independent Schools.”  

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