"Phenomenal" West Lothian pupils praised for exam results

The efforts of local pupils to achieve improved results during one of the most stressful exam years ever seen have been described as “phenomenal” by the head of Scotland’s largest teaching union.

By Stuart Sommerville, LDR
Tuesday, 31st August 2021, 3:54 pm
School pupils have faced a tough time over the past 18 months due to the pandemic. Photo by John Devlin.
School pupils have faced a tough time over the past 18 months due to the pandemic. Photo by John Devlin.

Heather Hughes, a local teacher currently serving as president of Scotland’s EIS union, paid tribute to the efforts of pupils and staff as the county recorded its best performance in the national qualifications. And teachers agree that success is based on assessment by the local high schools of their pupils.

Comparative data for 2017-2020 showed that West Lothian students were outperforming the Scottish average and the average of pupils with similar socio-economic characteristics at Level 6 in both S5 and S6. The West Lothian figures were up this year on last year’s performance, but comparative figures for elsewhere in 2021 are not yet available. It has been the ninth successive year of improvement for pupils across West Lothian schools.

Responding to questions, Catrina Hatch, interim head of secondary education told a meeting of the Education PDSP that the expected number of appeals this year was relatively small – mirroring the experience across the rest of Scotland.

Mrs Hughes said: “Because we were able to do away with the SQA who use a quota system and algorithm, did we see a rise in the number of “A” grades?

Mrs Hatch said: “Yes we have seen a rise in the percentage of “A” grades. That was based very much on the evidence we had for how young people performed, and the professional judgement that was exercised.”

Mrs Hughes said she felt emotional at the success in West Lothian and said it was testament to the work, after the schools had been closed for months, “these young people, led by teachers and all staff ” had put in .

She said the last year had been “ incredibly hard for pupils on an assessment treadmill” and teachers “facing unprecedented workloads.”

“The level of success they have achieved is phenomenal.”

This year – the second year National and Higher exams have been cancelled because of the pandemic – the SQA opted for the Alternative Certification Model (ACM). In 2020 the results had been delivered by the SQA based on prelim results.

Under the ACM pupils’ results last session were based on a range of assessment evidence gathered in school over the academic year as part of the learning and teaching process rather than being decided by the qualification authority.

Mrs Hughes added: “I‘m sure I represent everybody on this committee when I say we cannot commend all the education staff enough, and all the young people enough for the results they have achieved.

“When you take away barriers the SQA have put in place you allow young people to soar, to get the qualifications that they have proved they can.

“These results are the teachers’ professional judgement, but they are evidence based, and they are absolutely fantastic.

“So let’s hope that, when the SQA is replaced, we remember this, and we remember the success of allowing those professionals who teach the young people to judge what they have achieved and not have any barriers in place.”

Chairing the panel Councillor David Dodds said: “Thanks, Heather and I would endorse what you have said. I would also like to add my congratulations and thanks to all parents, carers and families who supported the children, because then it was much more difficult for them as well, and without their support I don’t think we would have achieved these results.”

Council Leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick also paid tribute to the education department staff, “the backup team at the civic centre” for their work in the past year.

“We are all very proud of what you have achieved collectively,” he added.