Parents and pupils bombarded John Swinney with a barrage of criticism in the immediate aftermath of this year’s exam results landing on doorsteps.
One angry parent told the Education Secretary the system was in “shock and paralysis” and accused it of condemning “rising talent to the dustbin” when fury erupted over grades issued during the pandemic.
A “former” SNP supporter wrote to the government to say the results were “a national embarrassment”, according to documents unearthed using Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation.
In the midst of a global pandemic we appear to have an alleged leadership prepared not only to run like headless chickens when dealing with our wage earners, we have an education system in a state of shock and paralysis prepared to condemn our rising talent to the dustbin.”
An angry parent to John Swinney on results day
A FoI request made by the Scottish Conservatives to the Scottish Government asked for correspondence sent to Mr Swinney on August 4 – exam results day – between noon and 11 pm.
Eighteen documents were recovered, which revealed the extent of the anger felt over the way results had been handled following the cancellation of formal exams as a result of the coronavirus.
The row centred on the moderation process put in place by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which was applied to teachers’ estimates of grades based on a pupil’s performance in the classroom.
The process was supposed to bring 2020 results into line with previous years.
But the system’s critics claimed it resulted in a “postcode lottery” that unfairly hit pupils from more deprived backgrounds because the SQA took into account the previous performance of schools when allocating final results.
The outcry led to calls for Mr Swinney to resign. The Education Secretary survived a motion of no confidence at Holyrood after he performed a U-turn that resulted in him abandoning the moderation process.
One parent emailed the Education Secretary to tell him his daughter had been a “straight A” student the previous year. But her dream of a law degree had been put “in jeopardy” by her Higher results “randomly calculated and guessed at by your charges”.
“In the midst of a global pandemic we appear to have an alleged leadership prepared not only to run like headless chickens when dealing with our wage earners, we have an education system in a state of shock and paralysis prepared to condemn our rising talent to the dustbin. This, Sir, happened on your watch. I hope your nights will be as sleepless as ours,” the parent wrote.
One individual who signed an email “a former SNP supporter” wrote: “This is a National disgrace. My daughter was predicted AABBB and was awarded ABDDD. Her prelims and class work obviously not taken into consideration at all. There will be children the length and breadth of this country absolutely broken today and could be tragedies. From a country that has produced some of the leading experts in the world, this is a national embarrassment. Hang your heads in shame. Today is a sad day for Scotland.”
One father revealed how his daughter had her A prediction for AH Physics downgraded by the SQA to a D, adding that the policy made “zero sense”.
Another parent whose son’s results were downgraded “drastically” was “disgusted by the way the children have been dealt with this year with their exam results”.
While one pupil said she was writing on behalf of thousands of others who had sat exams and were disappointed at what had happened.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “John Swinney was rightly inundated by a blitz of criticism from furious parents and youngsters over his exam debacle.
“It seems astonishing that he wouldn’t have been aware of the anger that was being instantly felt.
“The situation was allowed to fester for days, without any sign of a u-turn from the SNP’s Education Secretary.
“It was only when his own job was on the line that he sprang into action.”
Mr Greene added: “Angry parents and pupils deserved far better leadership from Mr Swinney who buried his head in the sand in the face of mounting critical correspondence.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Following the release of results in August by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) we were determined that every student should get a grade that reflected the work they had done.
“The Deputy First Minister took swift decisions that all downgraded awards would be withdrawn and directed the SQA to re-issue those awards based solely on teacher or lecturer judgement, or SQA moderated teacher and lecturer estimates where these were higher. He also took the view it was important this information was announced to the Scottish Parliament at the first available opportunity.
“We have always been clear that lessons needed to be learned from this process, and that is why the Deputy First Minster commissioned a rapid review of the process, which has subsequently reported.”
The spokesman added: “The Government has accepted eight of the nine recommendations, and is already working to implement the necessary changes.”