Re-marking `gamble' is a postcode lottery
The number of appeals against exam results varied wildly across different areas of Scotland this year, after the introduction of tough new rules designed to reduce the number of speculative requests.
Figures show that some schools did not ask for a single exam grade to be reviewed under the new arrangements, which mean that a fee is now charged if an appeal is turned down. For the first time, too, papers can be marked down as well as up.
But not all schools were put off by the new system, the data suggests, and some still presented dozens of pupils' results to the Scottish Qualifications Authority's new service.
Parent organisations have raised concerns that cost could be a factor in the discrepancies, as local authorities, and in some cases individual schools, now have to foot the bill for unsuccessful requests.
In total, the 20 local authorities that provided data to TESS submitted 3,356 requests to the new Post-Results Service this year, about a quarter of which were successful.
Some authorities said they submitted 10 times more results for review in 2013 than 2014, suggesting that certain schools are now less willing to "gamble" on a better result.
However, the statistics reveal a diverse picture. In the Borders, for example, eight of the nine secondary schools submitted between two and 28 results for review, but the remaining one submitted 66, 20 of which were successful.
In Dumfries and Galloway, the number of requests for re-marking varied from one to 32, while in Inverclyde the number of review requests ranged from zero to 49.
One headteacher told TESS he had expected the number of submissions to be lower this year. However, he added that the fact that some schools had submitted dozens of results for review and others none suggested headteachers really needed "clarity and guidance from the SQA" on the issue.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, also said that a significant drop in the numbers had to be expected. The intention of the new service had been to "fundamentally shift the whole business of appeals" from what had become an almost automatic process to one that required more careful consideration, she added.
However, she acknowledged that the variation revealed by the TESS survey was "quite surprising".
"Certainly we have been concerned that the cost of the Post-Results Service may be a barrier for some schools, meaning the pupils there are being disadvantaged," she said. "We certainly take the view that the system should be driven by the needs of pupils and not by finance or quotas."
Last month, it was reported that in almost two-thirds of local authorities, individual schools had to meet the costs of using the Post-Results Service. Elsewhere, councils fund the submissions, which cost between pound;10 for clerical checks and almost pound;40 for priority marking reviews.
In North Lanarkshire alone, requests to the Post-Results Service cost pound;14,000 this year, the TESS figures show.
South Ayrshire requests incurred a bill of pound;4,046 and those in West Dunbartonshire cost pound;3,659.
Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said there would "always be anomalies" in terms of practice and the resulting statistics in the first year of a new system.
"The overall numbers were likely to go down since schools - and students, whose permission was required - will have been careful over their submissions, conscious that the result could also go down this time as well as up," he said. "On the basis of that I would have expected a reasonable success rate.
"Some schools next year might take a less cautious approach depending on what they think the success rate was for colleagues this year, but they will still largely be cautious."
Mr Cunningham stressed that concerns over the impact of charging remained "a fear rather than a reality".
"I cannot see any authority denying a student the right to a review or re-mark on the basis of finance. [Although] it might on the basis of sensible professional judgement," he said.
The SQA would not comment on local figures. Statistics from the service show that a total of 66,201 appeals were made last year (2012-13) by all 32 local authorities, constituting 6.5 per cent of exam entries. The success rate was 48 per cent.
Overall figures for this year have not yet been published.