INVERCLYDE'S local authority schools were up to seven times more likely than their private counterparts to be hit with exam downgrades from the discredited moderation system behind this year's results scandal.

The method of moderation adopted by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in the absence of Higher tests adversely impacted schools in deprived areas — of which Greenock central is the poorest in the country.

Now the full disparity between rich and poor has been laid bare with the publication of school-by-school data for the whole of Scotland, with the Inverclyde figures highlighting 'bias' against appraisals by teachers of socially deprived students.

In one example, the rate of Higher results adjusted downwards under the system was 39.1 per cent for St Stephen's High School in Port Glasgow while the rate at the private St Columba's School in nearby affluent Kilmacolm was 11.5 per cent.

At the private Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock it was even lower at 5.3 per cent, whereas at Inverclyde Academy the rate of downgrades was 37 per cent.

Results adjusted from a pass to a fail under the SQA system were up to more than five times higher at local authority schools — 20.5 per cent at Inverclyde Academy compared with four per cent at St Columba's in Kilmacolm.

Exams were cancelled for the first ever time in Scotland due to coronavirus and the SQA was tasked with awarding grades using teacher estimates and a system of moderation.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, said: "This careful research has confirmed beyond doubt that the SQA's algorithm was, in effect, if not by intention, biased against the teacher judgements of socially deprived students by pulling down these teacher estimates.

"Although the results of that algorithm were abandoned by the Scottish Government a week after the results were announced, the legacy of distrust shown by the SQA towards teachers is likely to take many years to heal."

Professor Paterson added: "The research also shows for the first time that the algorithm was biased against the socially deprived in a further way, by upgrading their estimates far less often than it upgraded the estimates for students in more advantaged circumstances.

"Because these upgrades were not reversed, the Scottish Government has in effect colluded in this aspect of the bias against students living in poverty."

An SQA spokesperson said: "Following the cancellation of the 2020 exams, SQA was commissioned by the Scottish Government to develop an alternative certification model, based on teacher and lecturer estimates, to maintain standards over time.

"Given the estimates we received, we considered some moderation of teacher estimates was necessary, however almost three quarters of estimates were unchanged.

"The Equality Impact Assessment included statistical analysis of available data from 2016 onwards based on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).

“It demonstrates that, after moderation, there was an increase in attainment for those learners living in Scotland's most deprived areas and a narrowing of the attainment gap between those in the most deprived and least deprived SIMD bandings compared with previous years.

"So what this analysis fails to show is that attainment levels rose and the attainment gap narrowed even after moderation."

The Scottish Government said downgraded awards had been withdrawn and re-issued 'based solely on teacher or lecturer judgement, or SQA moderated teacher and lecturer estimates where these were higher'.

A government spokesperson added: "We accepted that the risk of undermining the value of qualifications was outweighed by a concern that young people, particularly from less advantaged backgrounds, may have been adversely affected.

"We will look to learn lessons from the process to awarding qualifications this year that will help to inform any future actions."

The government confirmed next year's exams results will 'reflect an individual's work rather than a statistical model or the past performance of their school'.


School Highers adjusted pass to fail Highers adjusted up Highers adjusted down

Cedars Nil 1.3% 5.3%

Clydeview 8.8% 3.2% 22.1%

Inv Acad 20.5% 1.2% 37%

Notre Dame 7.9% 4.1% 15.3%

Port High 18.4% 0.2% 32.5%

St Columba's (Gou) 6.5% 3.2% 15.4%

St Columba's (Kil) 5.4% Nil 11.5%

St Stephen's 18% 0.8% 39.1%