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Nicola Sturgeon under pressure in exams 'fiasco' as pupils and SNP colleagues protest

Nicola Sturgeon defended Scotland's exam regime despite a furious backlash by pupils and her own SNP colleagues.

The First Minister admitted teenagers gathered in the middle of Glasgow were "entitled to be angry" but said they should rely on an appeals process.

Pupils took action after it emerged young people from poorer communities were more likely to have estimated grades marked down by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, who "moderated" teachers' professional judgement.

Pressure for a re-think is also coming from senior SNP figures including former Scottish Government minister Alex Neil who branded the affair a "fiasco".

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Sturgeon, asked at a press briefing if the system is unfair, said: "If you're a young person sitting at home right now or in George Square in Glasgow and you have results that are below what your teacher thought you should get, you are going to – understandably – feel very aggrieved.

"And if you think that's because of the postcode you live in or the school you go to, that is going to be even more pronounced."

Sturgeon urged students to use the appeals process to address concerns, but said pupils are "entitled to be angry and entitled to feel that this is not just".

She added: "The Government will listen carefully to that, but please don't lose sight of this next part of the process because this is the part of the process that's not a statistical model, this is the part of the process that looks at your individual circumstances."

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The marking system, brought in because of coronavirus, involved past attainment data, which meant final results were influenced by the performance of a school in previous years.

About a quarter of all results – 133,000 – were adjusted by the SQA, with more than 90% changed downwards.

The Higher pass rate for pupils from the poorest areas dropped by 15.2% between teacher estimates and the final results, but only by 6.9% for pupils in the most affluent areas.

The new system unleashed waves of anger from pupils in deprived areas whose grades were lowered through no fault of their own. Calls have since been made to ditch the moderation system and replace it with a "no detriment" policy linked to prelims.

Senior SNP figures are among those angry at was exams were downgraded.

Alex Neil, a former health secretary who served in government alongside Sturgeon, called it a "fiasco".

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Neil, who sits on Holyrood's education committee, said: "Clearly the SQA’s grading system has been unfair and flawed – in particular, it is biased against schools in deprived neighbourhoods.

"In all three exam categories, youngsters living in the 20 per cent most deprived areas were more likely to have their results downgraded than those in the more affluent areas – this is unacceptable and must be rectified by the appeals process.

"Particularly worrying is where there have been students downgraded to the extent that they have lost a place at college or university, or to enrol on an apprenticeship or training course."

Fulton MacGregor, another SNP MSP, said there are "major question marks over the moderation process" and claimed: "It's simply unacceptable that some awards were made on such a random basis."

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