West Lothian Schools Higher Grade “Adjustment” Analysis

We are now in that period of the 2020 exam fiasco where we all look back and wonder “just how on earth did they think they could get away with that?”, recently the SQA published the full list of adjustments made to Higher grades in Scottish Schools. According to The Ferret pupils in Scotland’s poorest Schools were up to four times more likely to have their Higher grade changed from a Pass to a Fail than pupils in a Private School. This clear disparity between the poorest and wealthiest pupils should have been a large enough warning to the SQA to not go ahead with the alternative system for grading students, however they went ahead with it and faced the onslaught which saw calls for the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney MSP to resign. The government and SQA eventually back-tracked on the adjustment strategy and restored over 200,000 pupils original results set by teachers.

West Lothian’s Schools were hit by some of the largest amounts of adjustments to pupils higher grades, Deans CHS saw the 7th highest percentage of grades downgraded in the country with Inveralmond and St Kentigern’s not falling far behind. Meanwhile, Linlithgow Academy was in the top 20 for the lowest percentage of grades downgraded.

Armadale Academy

Armadale is rated “good” for Raising attainment and achievement by Education Scotland. As of 2019 14% of pupils living in an area ranked in the top 20% most deprived areas of Scotland, investigations have shown that these areas were impacted the most by the SQA algorithm. As for attainment Armadale saw an increase of students achieving 5 or more highers in 2018/19 which took them above the expected rate for the school.

National Ranking:156th
West Lothian Ranking:10th
% of Pupils on Free Lunches16.1%
% of Grades Upgraded:2.4%
% of Grades Downgraded:31.1%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
10.8%

Bathgate Academy

Bathgate Academy has improved its attainment rate over recent years after falling below the estimated performance rate in 2015/16. With overall improvements in Numeracy and Literacy. In 2018/19 only 33% of students left with 5 or more highers, this was an increase from the previous year. With some 12.5% of pupils living in the top 20% most deprived areas it is positive to see the recent improvements in attainment and ranking. However, concerns are still ripe about the school’s performance on a local level as it ranks last amongst West Lothian Secondary Schools and still struggles to meet the expected performance rates.

National Ranking:171st
West Lothian Ranking:11th
% of Pupils on Free Lunches16.8%
% of Grades Upgraded:1.5%
% of Grades Downgraded:28.2%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
19.5%

Broxburn Academy

Broxburn Academy ranks in the Top 100 Schools in Scotland with 44% of students achieving 5 or more highers before leaving and achieving much higher levels than the “Virtual Comparator” estimates, however, the school has seen little to no improvements in attainment over recent years, this seems to be in line with most areas of Broxburn dropping in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. The School’s national rating has dropped over the past few years.

National Ranking:73rd
West Lothian Ranking:8th
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:2.2%
% of Grades Downgraded:25.4%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
11.1%

Deans Community High School

Deans CHS was the hardest hit school in West Lothian during the Exam Scandal due to its previously extremely low attainment rate. As a key example of how the SQA Algorithm failed the pupils of Scotland we can see that despite the school increasing its attainment rate by 8% in 2018/19 and the overall rating of the school jumping from 163rd to 91st, it is the previous poor performances from the school which shaped the algorithm’s decisions despite the recent improvements. Deans saw the 7th highest % rate of higher grades being decreased by the SQA in 2020 due to the past ratings of the school, had the SQA taken into account the positive change of the school and local areas this would have been slightly better, however, despite concerns from cross-party MSPs, Councillors and Teachers the SQA did not fully take into account this sort of progression in schools and thus the poorest schools were hit the hardest.

National Ranking:91st
West Lothian Ranking:9th
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:0.9%
% of Grades Downgraded:45.1%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
19.5%

Inveralmond Community High School

Inveralomnd CHS has seen a massive jump in attainment and nation ratings similar to that of Deans. This explains for the extremely high % of students with their grade being decreased by the SQA algorithm. With the improvements taking place within the last couple of years it was the previously discussed incompetence and lack of care for the most disadvantaged students from the SQA which led to so many grades being reduced at Inveralmond.

National Ranking:52nd
West Lothian Ranking:6th
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:1.1%
% of Grades Downgraded:42.4%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
18.6%

Linlithgow Academy

Linlithgow was by far the least affected school in West Lothian with some of the lowest rates of adjustment across Scotland. This is due to Linlithgow’s high attainment rate for multiple years in a row and top 50 status nationally.

National Ranking:23rd
West Lothian Ranking:1st
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:1.4%
% of Grades Downgraded:10.7%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
3.0%

St Kentigern’s Academy

Whitburn’s St Kentigern’s has only recently seen an increase in their higher attainment which has been a gradual increase since their £19,000,000 upgrade in 2009. Although the school has seen a lot of upgrades and has seen improvements the local area still remains some of the poorest areas of West Lothian, every area of Whitburn ranks in the bottom 5 deciles in the SIMD rating which shows the disadvantage on St Kentigern’s students because the system we live under is designed to keep the poorest communities amongst themselves with little opportunity to move up the social-economic ladder or achieve their goals. With such a small % of grades being moved upwards, it is almost impossible to see how this grading system was comprehended as fair when the grades being decreased were almost 37 times more common.

National Ranking:74th
West Lothian Ranking:7th
% of Pupils on Free Lunches18%
% of Grades Upgraded:0.4%
% of Grades Downgraded:37.3%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
15.4%

St Margaret’s Academy

In a similar situation to St Kentigern’s, St Margaret’s is slowly creeping up in its attainment record with the school being located in a relatively lower-middle-class area of Livingston, however, many students come from some of the poorest areas.

National Ranking:45th
West Lothian Ranking:4th
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:0.2%
% of Grades Downgraded:37.2%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
25.7%

The James Young High School

As a former student it really upsets me to see my school be put down like this, and to know the some of the people caught up in the scandal really brings it home. For the school itself they have increased their exam attainment over the past 5 years significantly and have jumped up the national rankings, however, some of the earlier exam results had forced students results to be downgraded due to the SQA’s flawed Algorithm.

National Ranking:29th
West Lothian Ranking:3rd
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:0.9%
% of Grades Downgraded:29.5%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
10.0%

West Calder High School

In a similar situation to The James Young HS, West Calder sits in the middle of the affected schools as following a 2017 Education Scotland Inspection which rated the school as “weak” when it came to “meeting learning needs” and only “satisfactory” when it came to “learners experiences”, the school changed massively the way they operate and deliver the curriculum which has clearly worked as we have seen them jump up the league tables and increase attainment rates.

National Ranking:28th
West Lothian Ranking:2nd
% of Pupils on Free LunchesN/A
% of Grades Upgraded:1.0%
% of Grades Downgraded:28.7%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
11.7%

Whitburn Academy

As the second High School in Whitburn, many problems faced by St Kentigern’s are similar here. With Whitburn ranking as some of the poorest areas of West Lothian it’s not a surprise that we see such a high % of students registered for free with almost 30% of students living in Scotlands top 20% of deprived areas. From the earlier mentioned Ferret article, we know that schools with high %s of pupils with free lunches are 4 times more likely to have their “Pass” grade moved to a “Fail”.

National Ranking:48th
West Lothian Ranking:6th
% of Pupils on Free Lunches24%
% of Grades Upgraded:0.3%
% of Grades Downgraded:29.7%
% of Grades changed
from “PASS” to “FAIL”:
13.5%

From the data of West Lothian Schools, we can see that the national trend of schools in poorer areas being hit the hardest by the Exam Fiasco and schools in more affluent areas being hit less. Thankfully the Scottish Government have now backtracked on this disastrous system and implemented teacher based grades, however, questions still remain over why they defended this for so long when they knew that it was not fit for purpose.

By refusing to back down until forced by parliamentarians the SQA and government have failed West Lothian’s poorest students by undermining their trust in the education institutions and by neglecting the hard work of teachers and local authorities to improve education to increase their school’s attainment. The work put in by teachers was not even considered in most cases and led to the poorest being left out in a postcode lottery of exam results. We need serious reform in our education system that creates a fair playing field for students and a workplace where teachers are trusted and listened too.


Sources:

The Times

The Ferret

SQA (via the Ferret)

West Lothian Courier

Scottish Index of
Multiple Deprivation 2020

Education Scotland

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