Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville yesterday outlined long-awaited details of how the appeals process for students unhappy with the grades awarded by their teachers this year will work in Scotland.
Scotland’s biggest teaching union, the EIS, responded largely positively to the plans, given that one of the key concerns – that managing appeals would fall to schools – did not come to pass. Instead, as the EIS put it, “responsibility for handling appeals will rest with the SQA [Scottish Qualifications Authority]”.
Students will also appeal their grades directly, as opposed to having to rely on their school to make an appeal on their behalf. This was not a feature of the appeals process in 2020 – an omission criticised by children’s rights campaigners, including Scotland’s children’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson.
However, if a candidate appeals, their grade will be able to go up or down – something Mr Adamson had warned should not happen – and, in the wake of Ms Somerville’s announcement, school leaders and teachers have voiced their concerns that the window for students to appeal coincides with the summer holidays.
The summer break for Edinburgh schools, for example, mirrors the period students have been given for making a priority appeal, as it begins on 25 June, with teachers returning on 16 August.
Yet students are advised that once they have received their results on Tuesday 10 August, they “should have another discussion about your options with your teacher or lecturer, as you did before 25 June, and hear their professional view as to whether an appeal is in your best interests”.
One headteacher told Tes Scotland: “Promising an in-depth conversation with staff that are going to be on holiday is yet another example of how out of touch the SQA are. These conversations about appeals are important and the timeline should take this into account. It's surprising how out of touch the SQA are despite their claims that these decisions are made with a wide variety of stakeholders. After all, how could anyone miss this?”
However, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan insisted that “teachers won't be working over the summer” – but he added that “as ever, SMTs [senior management teams] are likely to be back slightly earlier, including the SQA coordinator”.
Meanwhile, Jim Thewliss, the general secretary of secondary headteachers’ body School Leaders Scotland (SLS), said that, since teachers will be keeping students abreast of the grade they are on track for, they should know if a student plans to appeal before the summer holidays. This, he said, would give teachers time to gather the evidence used to determine the grade so that it can be submitted to the SQA.
Mr Thewliss said: “The important part is these conversations leading up to 25 June [the deadline for submitting provisional grades to the SQA]. If you are a principal teacher, you should understand, in a Higher class of 25, how many pupils you are expecting to appeal, and prepare for that.”
SQA assessment 2021: How the appeals process will work in Scotland
Here is our summary of the key features of the 2021 appeals process:
On what grounds will appeals be able to be made?
Appeals are free of charge and this year learners will have a direct route of appeal, with appeals able to be made:
- against the academic judgement.
- against an unresolved administrative error.
- on grounds of discrimination.
When do appeals have to be submitted by?
Students have been told they have to register for appeals between Friday 25 June and Thursday 12 August. If they miss the 12 August deadline, they have been told teachers and lecturers can appeal on their behalf until Monday 16 August. However, as mentioned above, because students are also told they should have another discussion about their options with their teacher or lecturer after results day on Tuesday 10 August, questions are being asked about how this will be possible when many schools are still off for the summer break.
If they do not need the priority service they can ask the teacher or lecturer to submit an appeal until Friday 27 August.
What evidence is required?
That depends on the type of appeal. When it comes to an appeal on the grounds of an “unresolved administrative error”, the student will provide “a short, written explanation of what [they] believe has happened”. The SQA will then discuss the submission with the school.
In the case of an appeal on the grounds of discrimination, again the onus is on the student – with support from their parent or carer – to “provide a short, written explanation”. And again the SQA will discuss the submission with the school.
If the appeal is because the student disagrees with the academic judgement “all the necessary evidence that was used to determine [the] result will be provided to SQA by [the] school, college or training provider”.
When will appeals be processed by?
If the appeal is a priority appeal it will be processed by Friday 3 September, to meet the Universities and College Admission Service (Ucas) deadlines. When it comes to other appeals, the SQA simply says they will be processed “as quickly as possible thereafter”.
Why can’t students appeal on the grounds that their education has been severely disrupted by the coronavirus?
When the traditional exam diet is running, the SQA operates an Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service before results are published in August. It allows a school or college that believes that a candidate has suffered as the result of exceptional circumstances, such as bereavement or illness, to inform the SQA. If a request is accepted, schools can submit a wide range of evidence of the candidate’s attainment from throughout the year, which will be considered.
However, this year the SQA had said that this service will not operate. It is arguing that the kind of evidence submitted by schools in the past, when they wanted the SQA to take into account disruption – for example, a student might have missed an exam due to illness – is the kind of evidence teachers are basing this year’s results on anyway.
An update published last month by the National Qualifications Group 2021 says: “This year the Alternative Certification Model [ACM] allows centres to base provisional results upon a wide range of evidence, just as SQA would do for the Exceptional Circumstances service when formal SQA exams were operating.”
It adds that there is flexibility this year in terms of “how and when” evidence is captured so “where a learner has missed an assessment opportunity through absence, a bespoke alternative can be deployed”.
So there is no way for the considerable disruption caused by the pandemic that some strudents have experienced to be taken into account?
There is. A “very small” number of learners who have “been unduly disadvantaged by severe disruption to learning and teaching” will be able to submit provisional results by 3 September – as opposed to 25 June.
This contingency only applies “when extended absence on the part of a learner has reduced their ability to produce all the necessary evidence and where no alternative arrangement has been possible”.