Somerville accused of misleading Parliament over ‘algorithm by stealth’

Shirley-Anne Somerville has been accused of misleading the Scottish Parliament over the use of algorithms and historical school data to award pupils’ grades.

On Wednesday, the SNP Government education secretary said “grades will be based not on historical data or use of an algorithm”.

She said professional judgements “alone” would decide young people’s grades.

However, an Education Scotland document published this month states that staff will “analyse provisional results against three-year or five-year trends from historical data.”

It adds that grades would be formulated based on “historic patterns and trends of attainment.”

The Scottish Conservatives said Somerville has misled “Parliament, parents and pupils” and tried to introduce an “algorithm by stealth.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, Oliver Mundell MSP, said: “The SNP education secretary has misled Parliament, parents and pupils by falsely claiming that grades will not be based on historical data.

“This document confirms that the SNP have introduced an algorithm by stealth and kept it under the radar to avoid the inevitable and justifiable outrage.

“Limiting pupils’ grades using historical data and an algorithm is deeply unfair. It wrongly punishes young people because of their postcode, background or where they went to school.

“But the SNP and SQA are sleepwalking into the same shambles we saw last summer, only this time they’re being even more secretive. They seem to have replaced one flawed algorithm with dozens.

“The end result will be the same. The poorest children from the most deprived areas will once again be hit hardest by an SNP Government that no longer views education as a priority.

“The SNP Government and SQA’s fingerprints are all over this report. There’s no excuse for their doublespeak to keep the use of algorithms and historical data secret.”



Shirley-Anne Somerville comment

On Wednesday 2 June, Somerville said: “Let me be clear about the assessment process itself. At the heart of the model are teachers’ and lecturers’ professional judgments, which are based on what learners have demonstrated that they have attained. Those judgments alone, based on learners’ work, will this year determine the grades that young people receive. Those grades will be based not on historical data or on use of an algorithm, but on what each individual learner has demonstrated that they know, understand and can do, through the work on which they have been assessed in school or college. That is the key difference this year, compared with what happened last year.”


Education Scotland document


The Education Scotland report is available here:

It states: “Most local authorities have developed bespoke data analysis tools to support school level quality assurance. These provide key attainment information in an easily accessible format that will allow staff to analyse provisional results against three-year or five-year trends from historical data. Local authority officers expect staff to use these tools to review concordance data, including young people’s prior attainment, and identify and address any unexpected provisional grades. Local authority officers plan to analyse trends to discuss this year’s provisional results with headteachers, with a particular focus on verifying the data and identifying and challenging results or attainment patterns which appear anomalous. This includes consideration of historic patterns and trends of attainment when compared to this academic session’s provisional results, at individual, departmental and school-level.”

On the SQA’s involvement, it adds:

“Local authority officers meet regularly with headteachers and SQA co-ordinators to discuss school-level assessment approaches. These forums allow local authorities to share national expectations and discuss with staff any areas of concern. Headteachers and SQA co-ordinators describe how these meetings have been important in developing approaches to assessment within and across schools.”

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