NEARLY two thirds of pupils in East Lothian whose exam results were estimated by teachers had their final grades marked down – but following a Scottish Government u-turn, these will now be improved.

Exams were cancelled this year for students because of the coronavirus pandemic and teachers were asked to submit expected grades for each senior pupil based on prelim results and course work.

However, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) reviewed the submissions and using a ‘statistical model’, which took into account the historic exam performances of schools, downgraded thousands of submitted grades, causing a national outrage.

In East Lothian, 1,359 pupils received some grades which had been marked down.

Only 113 of the 2,130 young people who were due to sit SQA exams had any of their final grades increased.

The results dropped through letterboxes last Tuesday and sparked a furious backlash from students who received lower grades than expected.

Erin Campbell, 17, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) for Musselburgh, said many friends had been left worried and scared after the initial results came out, warning that the fiasco had been “bad for their mental health”.

Erin, who was a sixth-year student at Musselburgh Grammar School, said: “On a personal level, I was lucky to receive the results that I needed in order to move on to university; however, I am aware of a lot of young people, including close friends, who were left scared and worried after not receiving a conditional offer to uni that was reliant on these results.

“This badly impacted their mental health, particularly during the period of uncertainty before [Education Secretary] John Swinney’s announcement [on Tuesday].”

Student protests were held in Glasgow and Edinburgh and politicians piled on pressure for the Scottish Government to step in and overturn the results.

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray, Labour’s education spokesperson, called on Mr Swinney to resign after he initially backed the modified results before bending under pressure and telling the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday the Scottish Government had got it wrong.

Mr Swinney said it was “deeply regrettable we got this wrong” and ordered the SQA to amend awards which had been marked down back to the submitted grade provided by teachers and reissue them.

Mr Gray said Mr Swinney had spent five days defending the results before changing his position on Tuesday, asking him: “Why did he defend the results of this moderation for five days? Why did he leave these young people twisting in the wind for a week, hopes and aspirations in shreds?”

Speaking after the decision, Mr Gray said: “Given the scale of the exam results scandal, it was inevitable that many local students would have been affected. I have certainly had a number of young people and parents contacting me over the last week to express their concerns about their grades being adjusted down by the SQA and the impact it might have on their futures.

“The Scottish Government’s u-turn will bring relief to these worried young people and their families as they will now see their estimated results reinstated.

“However, the fact remains they should not have had to experience this worry and uncertainty in the first place. The Education Secretary has let them down and should be held accountable for this fiasco.”

Schools in East Lothian were yesterday (Wednesday) contacting pupils who had been affected to let them know they would receive new awards.

Across the county, 8,879 grades were submitted to the SQA for pupils at the end of May across National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher level by their teachers.

In total, 6,518 were accepted (73.4 per cent) with 119 adjusted up (1.3 per cent) and 2,242 (25.3 per cent) adjusted down.

In terms of pupils who were due to sit the exams, the council said just over 63 per cent saw at least one grade marked down.

Councillor Shamin Akhtar (Lab), cabinet spokesperson for education and children’s services, said: “I’m delighted that John Swinney has finally decided to do the right thing for pupils on the exam results fiasco.

“Young people have faced a very tough and stressful time already and this is something they should never have had to go through.

“School staff worked extremely hard to submit grades for their pupils to the SQA and the adjustments undermined their professional judgement.

“This u-turn is a victory for young people who have led the campaign against the unfair results and should be commended for standing up for their rights.”

And Councillor Craig Hoy (Con), a member of East Lothian’s education committee, said: “I am delighted that grades have been restored to hardworking pupils in East Lothian who faced huge uncertainty over the last week for no good reason.

“Everyone can see that John Swinney has presided over a litany of failures, any one of which could have been a resignation issue on its own.

“The SNP defended their appalling grading system to the hilt, even after it became clear that pupils, parents and teachers had no confidence in the system.”

On Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued an apology to students across the country who had been marked down by the SQA.

She said: “Our concern, which was to make sure the grades young people got were as valid as in any other year, perhaps led us to think too much about the overall system and not enough about the individual pupil.

“That has meant too many students feel they have lost out on grades they should have had, and that that has happened not as a result of anything they have done but a statistical model or algorithm.

“Despite our best intentions, I do acknowledge that we did not get this right and I am sorry.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council welcomed the u-turn, adding: “Throughout this process our schools have sought to represent the academic achievements of our young people in a way that provided a fair and accurate reflection of attainment using the guidance and methodology provided by the SQA.

“The announcement by the Education Secretary will be welcomed by young people who saw their results downgraded, and by our teachers and schools who used their professional judgement when providing grade estimates.”

East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill (SNP) pledged his support to headteachers in a letter at the end of last week after the original results came out.

He said: “I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement.

“As I said last week in a letter to East Lothian’s headteachers, I believe the people best placed to know about pupils are those overseeing and working alongside them during their academic journeys.

“This decision is the right one, and I want to send my congratulations to all students in East Lothian for the work they have achieved both before and during this pandemic, as well as a huge thanks to the teachers and school support staff who have worked so hard over the last few months.”