Scottish teachers ‘face a flood of malpractice complaints’

Teachers are facing a flood of malpractice claims from parents who do not believe their children were treated fairly or equally under this year’s alternative certification model (ACM).

The warning comes after schools began disclosing grades that will be submitted to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Seamus Searson, General Secretary of the SSTA union, said he had heard that one school in a “well to do” part of the country received 90 complaints last week alone.

He also told The Herald there had been a sudden rise in parents and learners making freedom of information (FoI) requests in a bid to identify significant variation or inequities in ACM arrangements.

READ MORE: Glasgow schools boss calls for grades overhaul

“Many of the complaints are about inconsistency in terms of the assessment approach [within a school or between schools],” Mr Searson said.

“[Those submitting FoI requests] are looking for disparities in the alternative assessment process for their children, something that was maybe different in another class or different in another school – for example, if a teacher decided that one group of pupils would get a second chance to produce the work necessary for a certain grade, but perhaps another group of pupils didn’t get that second chance.”

This year’s marks are based on teacher judgment supported by evidence of demonstrated attainment – a process that saw young people subjected to gruelling test schedules after classrooms reopened full-time following the Easter break.

The ACM arrangement was drawn up in the wake of a decision to axe this year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams in response to the impact of Covid-19.

HeraldScotland: Seamus Searson believes some Scottish schools will receive a large volume of complaints.Seamus Searson believes some Scottish schools will receive a large volume of complaints.

With many affected disproportionately by the need to self-isolate, critics feel the system should have been amended to include a greater role for inferred attainment. This is when a teacher is able to make grade decisions based on their wider knowledge of candidates and what they think would have been achieved in an assessment if, for example, it has not been possible to hold one.

Mr Searson said his union was expecting some schools to receive a large volume of complaints about this year’s process.

“We had a number of calls on the Thursday and Friday of last week from members who were telling us that there were malpractice claims being made against teachers by parents who were angry with the provisional results that are going to the SQA,” he said. “We thought this would be the case – that when the parents started to see the results for their children, they would take it up with their teacher, that they would reach the view that teachers had not done their job properly.

READ MORE: Glasgow education boss: ‘Trust teacher judgement on grades’

“Schools won’t change results in response to a parental query about the grade but parents have been resorting to other mechanisms, such as making a complaint against a teacher directly and saying, for example, that they have not done their job properly.

“Teachers say they could see this coming with ACM – because when it comes down to the cut and thrust, it will come back to the teacher.

“We’ve heard of one school in a well to do area in the west of Scotland that received 90 complaints from parents about provisional results, just in the last week.

“And at that point, the school will look to protect itself and ask the teacher to start gathering evidence together.”

He added: “We’re anticipating a large number of complaints for some schools – well into double, maybe even triple, figures.”

Mr Searson also said teachers had been “starting to panic” about collecting work or evidence in response to complaints and FoI requests. He urged them to wait until pupil grades are formally confirmed by the SQA on August 10.

HeraldScotland: Many critics are concerned about the impact of alternative assessment on pupils, particularly those who have had to self-isolate.Many critics are concerned about the impact of alternative assessment on pupils, particularly those who have had to self-isolate.

“We’re saying requests should be processed once results are confirmed… or that it should go to the SQA because the grade has gone to appeal and the SQA would then come back to the school,” he told The Herald.

“On top of that, the SQA are doing verification checks of results this week and next.

“And if the SQA has a query about this year’s results being very different from those in past years, the SQA co-ordinator in the school – likely to be a depute head or member of senior management – will contact class teachers about adjustments.

“But we don’t think this should be happening during the summer break, given the year teachers and pupils have had.”

READ MORE: Scotland should reform ’19th century’ pupil assessments

The Scottish Government stressed that any pupil who wants to challenge grades would be able to appeal directly to the SQA.

A spokeswoman said: “This year’s provisional grades are based on teacher judgment of learners’ demonstrated attainment.

“Teachers were supported nationally and locally to deliver the model in flexible ways whilst ensuring the grades are fair and robust.

“Learners who remain unhappy with their results can register an appeal directly with the SQA.”

The SQA declined to comment. 

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992