Scottish Labour launches bid to remove John Swinney over SQA results scandal

Sienna Rodgers
© User:Colin/Wikimedia Commons

Scottish Labour has confirmed that it will be seeking support from other parties and tabling a motion of no confidence in SNP Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney in a bid to remove him.

The announcement comes as the party got hold of evidence that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is planning to reveal the results of current grade appeal applications only at the end of May 2021.

There has been outrage this week, including protests in Edinburgh and Glasgow today, after the SQA results released on Tuesday saw the pass rates of pupils in the most deprived areas disproportionately reduced.

Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray said “too many young people have been hit hard by the SQA’s so called “moderation””, warning: “The SQA will now be deluged with appeals. I hope they are ready to deal with them properly.”

Gray called on Swinney to apologise and “fix this shambles or his position will become untenable”, as the results had “baked inequality into Scotland’s education system and has turned the attainment gap into a yawning chasm”.

Commenting on the move today, he 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.”

The SQA Intranet evidence supplied to Scottish Labour

A timeline on the SQA Intranet, which now appears to have been taken down, shows that review outcomes will be released in May 2021 other than in “priority” cases – although appeal applications close in just two weeks.

With the pass rate of pupils in deprived data zones reduced by 15.2%, compared to 6.9% for the most affluent, this lengthy delay for ‘non-priority’ appeals is likely to disadvantage many university applicants and young people seeking employment.

Gray added: “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.

“It is simply astonishing that the SQA and the Deputy First Minister thought they could get away with this. The removal of the timeline simply points to the chaos at the heart of the SQA.

“It is only two days since John Swinney told pupils who had been downgraded that the answer was the appeals process. Now we can see that’s going to be another kick in the teeth for these young people.

“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.”

Writing for LabourList this week, Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray argued that the flawed method adopted – based on postcodes or previous school performance – meant “thousands of pupils from poor communities have now had their futures stolen from them by the SNP”.

Murray added: “Nicola Sturgeon has failed a generation of young Scots, and that should be a harsh lesson for anyone who still thinks the SNP is a progressive government. At the very least, it should certainly be the final nail for any claim that education is the number one priority for the First Minister.”

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