PUPILS from the poorest backgrounds in Fife would have been worst hit had the Scottish Government not made its U-turn on the exams fiasco.

Fife Council said the initial Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results showed a greater proportion of awards with a reduced grade for students from the most deprived areas in the Kingdom.

Dunfermline councillor James Calder, the Lib Dems' education spokesperson, said: “While pupils from all backgrounds had their grades reduced in Fife, the poorest were the worst-affected.

“With Higher results being important for many in deciding their future after school, it was essential this was done correctly.

"I am glad the Scottish Government made its U-turn after pressure from pupils affected but it should never have got to this level.”

With no exams this year due to the pandemic, teacher estimates were moderated statistically by the SQA for the results that were released on August 4.

However, after widespread anger at pupils' grades being marked down because of their school's past performance, there was a change of heart by the Scottish Government.

The final results, released on August 11, were based entirely on unmoderated teacher estimates, with the exception of any marks which were increased during the initial SQA moderation process.

A report to Fife Council's policy and co-ordination committee compared the initial and final results.

It showed that, for Highers, 37.5 per cent of awards received by Fife pupils from the most deprived backgrounds were reduced by the SQA initial results compared to their final teacher estimates.

In comparison,  26.4 per cent from the least deprived backgrounds received a reduced grade.

In the report, Carrie Lindsay, the council's executive director of education and children’s services, stated: “There appears to be some correlation between the proportion of grades reduced and social context.

“However, the reduction of grades resulting from the SQA moderation methodology is varied between schools and within subjects at school level.”

The SQA’s initial results were based on three-year trend data for each subject in each school and each school’s overall performance in relation to the number of A, B and C grades in the last three years.

This was "to ensure national standards and systems were fair and credible". 

However, the data revealed that basing grades on those factors impacted those from lower-income backgrounds severely, while the council report said that, with the data available, they were unable to "fully understand how the methodology was used" by the SQA.

At the committee, Cllr Altany Craik was more blunt: "The SQA should be embarrassed by the cock-up they’ve made of this.”

At Queen Anne High School, 37 per cent of all grades were reduced in the initial SQA results – only Levenmouth and Kirkcaldy had a higher percentage.

In the initial results for Dunfermline High, 20.5 per cent of all grades were reduced. At Inverkeithing, it was 17 per cent; it was 23.6 per cent at St Columba's and 26.4 per cent at Woodmill.

Six secondary schools had more than 30 per cent of all grades lowered. At four of them, the percentage of all pupils entitled to free school meals was more than 20 per cent.

Once the final results were released on August 11, the overall pass rates for the most deprived areas in Fife improved by a greater margin than those for the least deprived.

Cllr Fay Sinclair, convener of education and children’s services, said: “I was pleased that the committee recognised the significant achievements of Fife pupils and staff this year.

“We have seen a rise in both the number and quality of passes, as well as a closing of the poverty-related attainment gap and I think it is really important that this cohort is able to celebrate that success. 

“Going forward, there are questions to be asked about how our education system, and in particular the use of exams, can provide an accurate measure of what all young people are capable of and I hope that experiences here in Fife can be fed into the national work being done in this area.”