High school will appeal on behalf of exam pupils

THE exams are over and the results are out but for a number of Higher, Intermediate and Standard Grade students at Berwickshire High School that’s not the end of the matter.

As the school’s website currently says: “The school will appeal in due course for all candidates who did not achieve their estimated grade for any subject. There are two stages to this process. Higher and Advanced Higher appeals will be submitted to SQA on August 19. Appeals for Intermediate and Standard Grade subjects will be submitted on September 9.”

It has been the school’s policy for some years now to appeal every instance of a pupil being awarded a lower grade than expected and it’s a policy that has paid off. Last year 29 per cent of the 83 Higher/Advanced Highers appeals they put in to the Scottish Qualification Authority were successful. In 2009 they made 94 appeals with 32 being successful (30 per cent) and in 2008 a staggering 60 per cent (29 of the 48 appeals) were upgraded.

And the school’s Intermediate and Standard Grade appeals have also been successful - 46 per cent were upgraded last year and 47 per cent in 2009.

SQA say that: “Non achievement of an estimated grade should not automatically result in an appeal,” adding that “centres should use professional judgement”.

But Bruce Robertson at Berwickshire High School argued: “How can you justify not appealing when you have evidence of their level of attainment?

“We always put the interests of the candidate first so I don’t see how you can take any other line on it.

“If we submitted 83 appeals and only one was upgraded it could be the difference between a university place or not for that candidate.”

Mr Robertson cites an instance of one candidate, expected to achieve an A in their Intermediate 2 who had been given no award. When a clerical check was requested they discovered that the mark for one of the two papers the candidate had sat had been recorded as 38% instead of the correct mark of 65% awarded.

Berwickshire High School have even taken the step of writing to the SQA’s director of operations to express their concerns about the system and in response to SQA’s argument that “the purpose of appeals is to provide an opportunity for centres to seek upgrades in course awards for exceptional cases where a candidate has failed to perform to the standard expected” they counter that every case is “exceptional”.

Not every school follows Berwickshire High School’s example of appealing every case where a candidate does not perform as well in exams as expected and if they were to do so the already cumbersome appeals process could well buckle under the strain.

Berwickshire High School’s successful policy of appealing every case of a lower than expected grade perhaps reveals a need for SQA’s quality assurance systems to be improved rather than having to rely so heavily on the appeals procedure. Appealing a lower than expected grade may help candidates who did better in their prelims but is no help to a student who may have under-performed in the prelims leaving no room for manoeuvre when it comes to the appeals procedure and any mistake in the marking of their exam papers could go undetected.

SQA guidelines on appeals are open to interpretation and so far Berwickshire High School’s interpretation has benefited many of its pupils.