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Joy for Orkney schoolpupils after downgraded ‘exam’ results are withdrawn

Scotland’s secretary for education, John Swinney, has apologised following the exam result furore.

More than 400 exam entries from school pupils in Orkney will have their downgraded exam awards withdrawn, in a huge u-turn by the Scottish Government.

In a move affecting about 75,000 pupils across the country, the Scottish Government has agreed to accept teacher estimates of scores, following an outcry after an estimated 125,000 results were marked down.

For the first time in history, no exams were held in Scotland, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, teachers submitted estimated grades for each pupil. These estimates, based on their work during the school year, were then submitted to a Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) moderation system which downgraded the results — on criteria including the historic performance of the school.

This sparked a huge backlash from students and politicians.

Orkney Islands Council’s executive director of education, leisure and housing James Wylie said he was “delighted” by Tuesday’s announcement, made by an under-fire education secretary John Swinney.

He said: “The significant and detailed work carried out by teaching staff and school managers was to an incredibly high standard, and I had every confidence in the approach and final outcome presented to the SQA.”

The u-turn now means that teacher estimates will be reinstated, and there will be no need for any appeals process.

In Orkney, the downgrading of awards totalled 436.

The total number of exam entries at Kirkwall Grammar School was 1,237 across National 5s, Highers and Advance Highers. Out of those, 290 were downgraded by the SQA.

At Stromness Academy, there was a total of 529 entries, and a reduction of 146 across National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers. In total, around 60 estimates were raised by the SQA at both schools.

With the small numbers at Junior High Schools, there were very few changes made by the SQA up or down on teacher estimates.

Mr Swinney, who is now fighting to save his political career, has already conceded that they got it wrong, and said an independent review would take place to look at where lessons can be learned.

The SQA will now reissue grades, based solely on teacher judgement. UCAS and other admission bodies will be informed of the new grades as soon as practical to allow for applications to college and university to be progressed.

The headteachers of Stromness Academy and Kirkwall Grammar School, Jane Partridge and Don Hawkins both said they had full confidence in their teachers’ judgements to produce “well-considered” estimates.

Mr Hawkins added: “The staff have gone above and beyond to ensure a considered and moderated set of results.”