Education Secretary John Swinney is facing calls to resign and could face a vote of no confidence in Parliament after the exam results “shambles”.
Scottish Labour is to table a motion of no confidence in the Deputy First Minister following a suggestion that non-priority pupils could have to wait until May 31 2021 to find out the result of any appeals.
The SQA has said that date is not correct, but are yet to state when pupils should hear the outcome of challenges.
The Scottish Government has faced widespread criticism over the grading system that replaced exams, which were cancelled in Scotland for the first time ever due to coronavirus.
The system, produced by the SQA and approved by the Government, saw 26.2% of grades changed during the moderation process based on criteria that included schools’ historic performances – with a total of 124,564 pupils’ results downgraded.
Hundreds of pupils took to Glasgow’s George Square on Friday morning to protest this year’s system of awarding exam results – the methodology of which was only revealed on results day.
The First Minister said the controversial process was “effectively statistical moderation” and argued results would not have been “credible” if the pass rate of the most-deprived pupils had risen by the 19.8% estimated by teachers before moderation.
Both Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Swinney have defended the system, stressing that the appeals process would allow eligible pupils to challenge their results if they were downgraded from teachers’ estimates.
But Scottish Labour has now released what it says is a photo of the SQA’s intranet that suggested a potential nine-month wait for pupils who had appealed that were not awaiting college or university places.
The May 31 2021 date for appeal outcomes to be released has now been removed from the exam board’s internal website and the SQA said it was just to allow their online system to work.
A spokesman said: “There is no nine-month wait for grades. This was a meaningless date set as part of a technical requirement to allow the system to go live.
“We are committed to processing all appeals as quickly as possible. We will provide a date for all other reviews shortly after 21st August.”
The deadline for submitting appeals for ‘priority’ students waiting on a college or university place is August 14, and August 21 for all other pupils.
Appeal verdicts for “priority” students are due to be sent to schools or colleges by September 4.
Before the SQA released its statement, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Since the shambles of the SQA results emerged on Tuesday, the SQA and SNP ministers have deflected criticism through arguing that students could appeal unfair grades.
“This astonishing leak blows the lid off their defence.
“The SQA created this mess and the SNP Government has entrusted them to sort it out – but all we have seen is shambles upon shambles upon shambles.
“To throw young people’s life chances into doubt is a disgrace, but to then make them wait over nine months for justice is a total insult.”
He added: “We cannot have confidence in John Swinney and the SQA to run a credible appeals system. The only way out of this mess now is for Scottish Government to return to trusting teachers’ judgments.
“It is now clear that John Swinney has completely lost control of the SQA and the exam process, and he needs to go.
“We will seek to lay a motion to that effect and approach colleagues across Parliament for their support.”
Under Scottish Parliament rules, a motion of no confidence can be tabled, debated and voted on if it is backed by at least 25 MSPs.
The Scottish Conservatives announced they will support the no confidence motion and the party’s education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “Public confidence in Mr Swinney’s ability to handle his brief, particularly his response to the current SQA fiasco, has hit rock bottom.
“Reports of the SQA appeals process potentially being extended to May 2021 will be gut-wrenching to young people waiting on a training or university place.
“Scotland’s pupils, parents and teachers need an education secretary who inspires their confidence. Mr Swinney used to be the SNP’s resident safe pair of hands – the public no longer trusts him.”
Asked whether Mr Swinney or the SQA’s chief examining officer Fiona Robertson should “take responsibility” and resign, Ms Sturgeon said there were “debates to be had” once the results process was over.
Speaking at the Government’s coronavirus briefing, she said: “If we get a situation where lots of appeals are awarded, then it will show that that process has worked as intended. So let’s wait until we get to the end of that process and see what the situation is [then].
“There will be questions asked, there will be debates to be had, there will be a reflection the Government and SQA want to make about the method used…I’m not suggesting otherwise.
“But don’t just cast aside this next part of the process because this is the part of the process that we always intended would be about ensuring the individual injustices could be identified and rectified.”
A spokesman for the First Minister said: “Governments across the UK – and indeed across the world – have had to adapt to a near impossible situation imposed on exam systems by the global pandemic.
“The fact is, no alternative system to the exam diet would leave everybody satisfied, which is perhaps why Labour in Scotland have not even suggested one. Indeed, reports suggest that a similar process to that used by the SQA will lead to similar – or perhaps greater – proportions of pupils being downgraded in Labour-run Wales, when results are published shortly.
“John Swinney is absolutely committed to listening to the concerns of those who feel let down by this week’s results. In the meantime, it is important that the appeals process is allowed to proceed.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “John Swinney and the SNP Government have let down thousands of students just at a time when they needed them most.
“For the sake of the students we need to focus on resolving this issue and therefore we want to hear from the Education Secretary on Tuesday about his plans.
“If we are not satisfied that he has a plan that will work, we will consider backing a motion of no confidence.”
Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said: “This utterly unacceptable situation must be resolved at once.
“Implementing a no detriment policy as many universities have done would be a first step towards correcting some of the unfairness imposed on working class communities.”