Plan for grade checks during summer holidays attacked

Union hits out at SQA plans to check grades submitted by schools during the summer holidays

Emma Seith

SQA assessment 2021: Plans for grade checks during summer holidays attacked

A teaching union has hit out at Scotland’s “out of touch” exam body, saying the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has “little understanding or respect for schools or staff”.

The attack from the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) comes after the SQA notified schools that it would be checking grades up to 7 July – by which time Scottish teachers and students will have started their summer holidays.

However, the SQA says the SSTA has "misunderstood the situation" and that the SQA plans to work with a named contact at a school or college following the submission of provisional results "for a short period and only if necessary" to carry out administrative checks and to address any issues such as data entry.

An SQA spokesperson added: "We fully understand and appreciate the needs of teachers, who we work with day in and day out."

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The SSTA also raises the issue – in its latest newsletter to members – of priority appeals against grades from students needing to be made by 16 August, the day some schools return after the summer holidays.

It says: “This would not allow schools sufficient time to identify the appeals, gather the evidence and have it packaged without teachers working through their holidays.”

SQA assessment 2021: Risk of teachers having to work in summer holidays

The union says it is expecting “an increase in appeals and further scrutiny of how the schools submitted grades to the SQA” this year, and advises teachers “to retain all records of their assessment”, including the grade they had assigned students “before moderation/verification”.

There are fears that teachers are being asked this year to alter the grades they have assigned to students to bring them into line with their school’s prior attainment.

Tes Scotland revealed that a report by school inspectors had found that “most” councils were “identifying and challenging results or attainment patterns which appear anomalous” and were providing schools with historical attainment data going back three or five years.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told the annual general meeting of the EIS teaching union last week that, under the model that has replaced the exams this year, there is “no place” for councils to instruct teachers to change grades.

However, the SSTA is nonetheless telling its members to record:

  • Your expected pupil attainment level (taking into account Covid-19)
  • Your initial attainment level before moderation/verification
  • The final grade submitted to the SQA by the school.

The SSTA update said: “The SSTA understands that the SQA are conducting post-submission checks to take place between 25 June and 7 July. Schools are being advised that SQA will contact them and they must respond by 5 July. This is totally unrealistic as the vast majority of schools will be closed for the summer and teachers will be unavailable.
“In addition, priority appeals are now scheduled to be submitted no later than 16 August when a number of schools are due to return. This would not allow schools sufficient time to identify the appeals, gather the evidence and have it packaged without teachers working through their holidays.
“The SQA appears to have little understanding or respect for schools or staff if it expects teachers to work through the summer vacation.
“SSTA recommends that all teachers take a well-earned break and step away from all work until they return to school in August. The last thing teachers need is another vacation period ruined.”

Earlier this month, Ms Somerville committed to reforming the SQA amid ongoing concerns that the assessment system in place for 2021 could lead to a repeat of the debacle of 2020.

However, on Friday at the EIS annual general meeting, the union's general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said he was "unsure about reform" and that he believed "replacement is a stronger option”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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