Sturgeon pressured on school exam appeal inequalities at FMQs


Labour argue charging for exam appeals has created a class division between state and private school students

NICOLA Sturgeon received a grilling at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday as Kezia Dugdale, Labour deputy leader, pressured her on rising inequalities in school exam appeals.

Dugdale claimed that double the number of children from private schools are appealing school exam results than from state schools “because parents who send children to private school can afford it”.

SNP Government school reforms introduced last year meant that schools or local councils have to pay to make student exam appeals, while private school parents are able to pay for appeals.

When asked whether exam appeals have gone up or down over the last year, Sturgeon refused to answer, instead arguing that the SNP’s legacy on school reform had been a positive one, quoting Larry Flanagan, school teachers union (EIS) general secretary, stating the Curriculum for Excellence reforms have been positive, and on exam appeals she requested that the Labour opposition come up with proposals for reform rather than just complaints

Dugdale quoted Larry Flanagan back to Sturgeon, saying that, on exam appeals, Flanagan argued that it should be teachers, not parents, that make the decisions, and that the changes are “fundamentally wrong”. Dugdale added that the First Minister “clearly doesn’t have a clue” about exam appeal figures, stating that appeals in state schools have dropped by 55,000, 75 per cent in one year.

“Good exam results can be the difference between school students going on to university or not,” Dugdale said, “and for disadvantaged students in particular, it can be a deal breaker.”

Sturgeon retorted that in 2014 there was a record number of Higher passes in Scottish schools, and that the Labour party should be celebrating that success.

Dugdale said that the appeals system “now favours parents sending their children to private school more than ever before”.

“Parents with private school kids can buy their children a second chance,” she said. “Parents with private school kids can put their hands in their pocket to help their kids, but parents of state school pupils can’t.

“People of Scotland just want to know: is this the fairer Scotland that the First Minister promised?” Dugdale asked.

Sturgeon replied that under the SNP Government more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are able to go to university, “up 6.4 per cent under Labour to 8.9 per cent under the SNP”. Sturgeon said that if it was up to Labour free higher education would have been sacrificied, “and people like me wouldn’t be able to get into higher education.”

CommonSpace reported in December that the number of successful exam appeals dropped from 32,000 in 2013 to 2,172 last year.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority introduced the reforms to reduce the number of speculative appeals.

Picture courtesy of missmass