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SQA plans to axe appeals for underperformers

The Scottish Qualifications Authority wants to do away with appeals for underperforming candidates, in a money- saving move it believes is justified by Curriculum for Excellence.

The planned changes would mean that only exceptional personal circumstances - such as family bereavement or serious illness - would be considered grounds for appeal.

In an interview with TESS, SQA chief examiner and chief executive Janet Brown said there was widespread support in schools for changing the system.

The rising number of appeals in recent years, Dr Brown said, had created "an awful lot of work and an awful lot of expense".

"Where schools believe a student just hasn't performed as they should have, they could ask for a re-mark or a review of the paper but that will be the limit," she said. "In general, we've had a very positive response, because this approach focuses the appeals process on those who absolutely need it."

The reduced onus on appeals would support Curriculum for Excellence by shifting the focus towards formative assessment, Dr Brown added.

The SQA has yet to indicate when it plans to introduce the changes, but many expect them to coincide with the launch of new National 4 and 5 courses in 2013-14.

In 2010, there were 63,020 successful appeals, 5.9 per cent of the total entries, with a cost of pound;770,578.

Larry Flanagan, education convener of the EIS union, acknowledged the need to review the appeals system, saying that in recent years pupils had been sitting second and even third prelims in order to prepare appeal material.

But he warned that if, at the moment, so many candidates were getting appeals, "how can the SQA be certain that a lot of people will not be disadvantaged if the system is changed?"

The driving force for the SQA was to save money, he claimed.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said her union was in favour of the changes. "The reliance on one result in a prelim is not helpful. It is much more helpful to base it on the work of a one or two-year course and formative assessment," she said.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said: "We have to keep a watchful eye to make sure that certain schools are not disadvantaged over this - that if you are in a higher-performing, bigger school, it may be easier to have things like appeals, as happened in the former derived grades system."

Full interview on pages 14-15; Comment page 31

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