ALMOST one in five Dumbarton Highers results were downgraded to fails this year by the government's exams body, new figures reveal.

The SQA’s system to replace exams cancelled by the pandemic hit poorest schools hardest and saw almost a third of Highers at Dumbarton Academy marked down.

Youngsters were penalised based on an algorithm using past school results, not individual performance, effectively reaffirming the gap in attainment based on deprivation.

Vocal protests by pupils forced the SQA into a U-turn in August, issuing new grades to 75,000 youngsters who had been punished for coming from more deprived postcodes.

But SQA results released to The Ferret website and our sister paper, the Sunday National, showed how each school was affected.

Dumbarton Academy had 30.1 per cent of all Highers marked down from teacher estimates.

A total of 17.3 per cent were reduced from pass to fail.

Our Lady and St Patrick’s High saw their results reduced by 19.7 per cent and 6.4 per cent were failed.

And 16 per cent of Vale of Leven Academy results were marked down, with one in 10 reduced to fail.

Clydebank schools were even harder hit, with 39.2 per cent of St Peter the Apostle results marked down, and 44.3 per cent of Clydebank High results down, one of the worst figures across Scotland.

Only a small fraction of results were marked up by the SQA from teacher estimates, with Vale of Leven Academy faring best, at 4.4 per cent of results.

The SQA U-turn did not affect youngsters who saw better grade from the system.

Teachers had warned for months about the potential problems.

Jackie Baillie MSP said: “There seems to be no end to the shambles surrounding the Scottish Government’s handling of this year’s SQA results.

“It is completely unacceptable that hardworking pupils from Dumbarton Academy had their results downgraded to a far greater extent than for pupils from wealthier areas.

"Their future prospects were put into jeopardy because of an ill-thought out algorithm that held postcodes in a higher regard than the advice and experience of Scotland’s teachers.”

Analysis by University of Glasgow academics for The Ferret showed schools where 40 per cent or more of pupils received free school meals, the average Higher grades were marked down from pass to fail by more than 20 per cent.

For schools with the fewest youngsters getting free school meals, the figure was nine per cent.
The university’s Barry Black said: “It is important to remember that downgraded results were due to the past attainment of a pupils’ school and not any aspect of their individual performance.

“The goal now must be to learn from this period and re-imagine how we go about closing the educational attainment gap in Scotland – and never again formalise it.”

The SQA had “no regret” about their system and insisted it had narrowed the attainment gap.

A spokesperson told The Ferret: “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 Scottish Government said next year’s results will reflect a pupil’s work, rather than statistical models for their school, adding: “We will look to learn lessons from the process this year that will help to inform any future actions.”

A West Dunbartonshire Council spokeswoman, when asked if they had any comment, said: “No further objections were raised following the revised SQA results this year.”