SQA results: 'Swinney's announcement is momentous'

The decision to undo the SQA results grading process and go with teachers' estimates will have huge ramifications, says Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

SQA results: 'Swinney's announcement is momentous'

Way back in another time (otherwise known as June) it became clear that 11 August would be a landmark day in Scottish education. This was when, after the coronavirus lockdown and nearly five months away, pupils would start returning to school.

As it turned out, 11 August will be remembered as an even more significant day than anyone predicted  and not because of schools reopening.

Education secretary John Swinney's announcement this afternoon that all 125,000 results or so which were downgraded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) would now revert to the grades estimated by teachers and lecturers is, it doesn't feel hyperbolic to say, momentous.

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In doing so, he hasn't just overturned this year's SQA processes, he has hacked at the very foundation of how exams and qualifications are run in Scotland. As many commentators have said already, the anomalies and injustices in how grades were moderated this year did not spring from nowhere because a global pandemic happened to come along  Covid-19 simply made them more obvious.

Now, as is often the case in a time of upheaval, it looks like space may have been created for fundamental reform of exams in Scotland. And the ramifications of Swinney's statement could go beyond Scotland, with questions already being asked about what it means for the upcoming A-level and GCSE results in other parts of the UK.

Education news rarely moves so fast, and tomorrow morning it is the SQA that will face a grilling in the Scottish Parliament, while Swinney still faces a no-confidence motion.

Today, however, feels like the one that will go down in the annals. Whatever the reasons, Scotland has decided that at least for this year  teachers' judgment of their students' progress is paramount. That particular genie will not be stuffed easily back into the bottle.

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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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