Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Exam results for Scottish secondary school students were released on Tuesday, queue the inevitable: celebration, outrage and debate over the fairness of the system which largely determines the academic future of Scotland’s young people. The extraordinary circumstances under which results were awarded in the year: with cancelled exams and a system of teachers estimates along with national moderation, was always going to be controversial. However, upon release of results, the systemic bias within the Scottish education system was shockingly apparent.
Just over ¼ of students had their predicated grades adjusted. Of these, 93.1% were moderated down. Students receiving grades A-C from the least deprived areas largely received their predicted grades (only 6.9% were adjusted). However, those from the most deprived areas received a disproportionately larger number of alterations (with 15.2% of estimated grades adjusted). In fact, the pattern displayed within the SQA Equality Impact Assessment Report was clear; levels of results adjustment increased with higher levels of deprivation.
Understandably, teacher estimates were never going to be the be the final say and moderation is an essential part of maintaining the integrity of examination results. Had the estimates been left unchanged, results would have been abnormally higher than previous years, which would diminish the achievement for many. It is also worthy of a note that more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have gained Highers this year than in previous years and this is a cause for celebration.
Yet, the system this year lessens the exams results determination of individual ability and is more based on the ability of a mass of students. This means that those from worse performing schools were harshly punished for simply attendings them, whilst those from high achieving schools were awarded for simply setting their foot through the door. Coming from a more affluent background, has this year had a more direct impact than ever on students’ achievements. The ability for students from less advantaged backgrounds to achieve high grades within an already biased system has been dampened, and this is overwhelming upsetting for many.
However, the anger felt at this clear bias towards those from higher achieving schools can be utilised as changing point in our education system. The manner in which results were awarded was based partly on the historical achievements of students in previous years. The results that were awarded did maintain patterns of achievement of these grades from the previous years. In fact the SQA awarded more A- C results that were the same as predicted to all brackets of individuals than they have in the past 4 years.
The real issue is the worrying pattern of those from deprived areas consistently achieving less than expected to by their teachers, bear in mind they are already achieving fewer results in total. That is the true issue at the heart of these years results. The Scottish education system is failing those who need it most.
What these results have made clear is that the system that educates Scotland is in at least some ways broken. Year upon year, the results show that the system continuously favours those from more affluent backgrounds; those who already have so many privileges in life. This year, the system that was designed to uphold the integrity of exams, did just what it had aimed to do; it churned out similar results to those from previous years.
The disappointment for those who had results that were drastically adjusted is valid and there are ways to challenge the results for those who feel their results were unjust (albeit this another barrier in the way of many students’ dreams). However, the true issue at stake here is our education and examination system as whole. The system being upheld year upon year disadvantages those from the most deprived areas whilst benefiting those at the top. That is what is truly upsetting, and it is clear that systemic change is needed.