SQA, Exams and Your Rights: Wanting to hear more than ‘just appeal’

Note: this is a shorter version of a longer blog post which can be found here https://childrensrightsadvocate.com

The Scottish Government have consistently shown a commitment to the rights of children and young people in Scotland.

However, the response to the cancelling of exams and the developing of a new grading system has not been children’s rights compliant.

If the Scottish Government and SQA had taken a child centred approach, as the Getting It Right For Every Child framework advocates, we would not be seeing the disproportionate disadvantage which so many have faced upon getting their results.

Children’s Rights Impact Assessment

A Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) completes before the cancellation of the exams and the development of the alternative grading system would have ensured young people were involved in the system directly.

Mitigations could have been put in place such as:

  • An alternative exam diet for those who wish to sit their exams – England has this option available for those who do not wish to accept the grade awarded to them.
  • A no detriment policy – Similar to that adopted by universities this approach to examination results would ensure that a young person is not allowed to suffer because of something which was out of their control. An agreement between the SQA and universities would prevent students being rejected from their university choices automatically based upon exams they were not permitted to sit.
  • An inclusive and direct appeals process – students cannot currently access the appeals service directly. All appeals must come from individual schools. It is also important to note that not everyone is currently permitted an appeal – an appeal is currently only permitted where the SQA have downgraded a result from the teacher estimate.
  • The return of coursework held by the SQA to give teachers increased evidence to base grades upon – the SQA refused to return coursework submitted to them previously.
  • Individual Team Around the Child assessment discussions at the outset of the process where teachers were allowed to explain estimates.
  • Individualised assessment of the impact of pandemic on each child who is dissatisfied with the results and have this taken into account in the appeals process as mitigation.

It is your right to be involved in these decisions.

Which rights were impacted by the cancellation of exams and the development of the alternative grading process?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has a range of rights which have been impacted by the cancellation of the exams, and the alternative grading process. These include:

  • the right not to be discriminated against, directly or indirectly (Article 2),
  • the best interests of the child being considered when decisions are made and laws are developed which will affect a child (Art 3),
  • the right to be involved in decision making consistent with their evolving capacities – the older you are and the more you understand about the decisions being made, the more you should be involved in that process (Art 5 and 12),
  • the right to freedom of expression – to be able to find out information about yourselves and keep it private if you so wish (Art 13 and 14),
  • the right to freedom of association – to take part in peaceful protests (Art 15),
  • the right not to have arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family home, or correspondence (Art 16),
  • the right to education (Art 28) with the right to special care for those with a disability (Art 23),
  • the right to an education which ensures development is supported in the best way possible for each individual child (Art 29).  

The Scottish Government and SQA have failed to take a child centred approach and ensure that decisions are made in the best interests of each student, consistent with Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Dialogue with young people

Young people should have been encouraged to play a role in the bigger conversation about exam results 2020 to enable them to be actively involved and included in decisions which affect them in the short and long term.

One of the Government’s aims is for children and young people to ‘have help to overcome social, educational, physical and economic inequalities and being accepted as part of the community in which they live and learn’. It is clear that this has not happened here.

So, what now?

It is time for the Scottish Government and the SQA to acknowledge that they have made a mistake and that the system was not fair in the way they say it was intended to be. Saying students can ‘just appeal’ is not a solution – it lacks clarity and thought.

As a result of this unfairness, there needs to be mitigations put in place which ensures there is no detriment to young people, an inclusive and direct ability to appeal grades given in 2020 which does not rely upon a school agreeing to put in the appeal. There should also be an agreement that there should be no further moderation conducted in appeals.

2020 is not an ordinary year and should not be compared to other years. Our students are individuals not statistics.

The #NoWrongPath message does not excuse the SQA and Scottish Government’s failure to engage with children’s rights – it has led to #AnUnnecessaryDiversionForSome – something which could be rectified now by engaging with the individuals at the heart of this and applying the mitigations above. No young person should have their life opportunities affected because of the pandemic in this way if we can provide mitigations which avoid it – and we can- and we must.

Join the national conversation

There is an online event open to young people on Monday 10th August. It is youth led by @SQAOurSay and supported by @CYPCS

Details here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/do-we-want-more-than-appeals-students-join-a-national-conversation-tickets-116170740813

This is a shortened version of a longer blog post. I am happy to answer any queries young people may have and can be contacted through Twitter @DrTracyKirk or contact @SQAOurSay or email: QAWheresOurSay@gmail.com