Scotland politics

Number of exam appeals in Scotland rises by 40%

Pupil sitting an exam
Image caption Some students claimed this year's Higher Maths exam reduced them to tears

The number of exam appeals in Scotland has gone up,as big changes to the education system continue to bed in.

A total of 12,077 appeals were made this year to the Scottish Qualifications Authority - nearly 4,000 more than last year.

The overall number of appeals which led to a grade change went up although the proportion of appeals which were successful was down significantly.

A financial charge is now made when appeals are unsuccessful.

Big changes were made to the appeal system last year alongside the introduction of new qualifications.

The appeals process was, essentially, split into two.

If a candidate could be expected to get a poorer mark than they deserve - for instance because of serious illness or a death in the family - the school makes the appeal to the SQA in advance and provides supporting evidence. That way the candidate should still get the grade they merit when the exam results are published in August.

Image caption Big changes were made to the appeals process last year

After the exam results are released, schools can ask for a paper's marking to be checked or for the marks to be added up again if they suspect a mistake has been made.

This year 12,077 appeals were made after the exam results were published - 2,378 led to the candidate being awarded a higher grade.

That compares to 2,175 out of 8,448 last year.


Analysis by Jamie McIvor, BBC Scotland education correspondent

The concerns alone about the Higher Maths exam are not a major factor in the overall figures.

The total number of appeals has gone up but the proportion which led to a change in the grade is down.

There is a charge for appeals which do not lead to a change in the grade - this was designed as a deterrent against the purely speculative appeals which, it is alleged, some schools previously made simply because a candidate got a disappointing mark.

But does this also lead to a reluctance to make appeals which may, just, have succeeded?

Read more from Jamie here.


In 2013, 32,000 appeals were made. But this total also included candidates whose disappointing exam day performance could have been anticipated and the so-called "speculative appeals" which the new system was designed to discourage.

Charges are now made when appeals are unsuccessful to try to deter purely speculative appeals. An appeal can also result in a lower mark now - although this only happened on five occasions.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Although thousands more appeals were made, only a few hundred more were successful

Earlier this year, Labour warned that some state schools may have been reluctant to put in appeals because of pressure on their budgets and suggested independent schools were more likely to make them.

Dr Janet Brown, SQA Chief Executive, said: "At the heart of all our activities is a commitment to the highest possible standards in Scottish qualifications.

"As part of that commitment, we have put systems in place to ensure that our approach to assessing qualifications is high-quality, rigorous and fair for all candidates. Post Results Services were designed in partnership and consultation with representatives from across Scotland's education system."

"We constantly review our procedures to enhance and improve them with the aim of ensuring the best possible outcomes for candidates."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A total of 12,077 appeals were submitted after exam results came out this year

The controversy over this year's Higher Maths exam, said to have reduced some pupils to tears, means the number of appeals in the subject is of particular interest.

The pass mark in the New Higher was lowered to just 34% and candidates needed just 60% for an A Grade after the paper proved significantly harder than intended.

Just 29 appeals on behalf of candidates who sat the New Higher led them receiving a better grade, while 42 who sat the old Higher got a better grade on appeal.

'Not good enough'

Scottish Labour's opportunity spokesman Iain Gray said the "extraordinary" rise in appeals "shows just how chaotic the new exams system is".

He called for an urgent review of "what went wrong" with exams this year.

He said: "SNP Ministers and the SQA can't bury their heads in the sand any longer. The excuses we have heard previously from the SQA that they did their job just aren't good enough."

Lib Dem education spokesman Liam McArthur added: "Marking of exam papers needs to be consistent across the country so pupils know they are being treated equally and fairly. The increase in requests for review of results and the number of changes that have to be granted is therefore worrying."

A Scottish government spokesperson said; "This year 142,862 candidates sat a wide range of qualifications with record numbers achieving Higher and Advanced Higher passes.

"The number of requests for review is a very small proportion of the total number of entries, with grades only changing in 0.4%.

"Meanwhile, the rate of requests for review for Higher Maths is lower than the average across all Higher subjects."

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