Nicola Sturgeon forced into humiliating apology after £140k taxpayer blunder

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More than 124,000 results were downgraded during a botched moderation process, which was introduced after COVID-19 forced the scrapping of exams. Protests forced both the First Minister and the Education Secretary John Swinney to apologise, with amended grades eventually being withdrawn.

As a result, teacher estimates were reinstated on Highers, Advanced Highers and National 5s.

However, FOI requests have revealed that two consultancy businesses were paid £139,290 after being drafted in by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

It paid statistical software company SAS £119,232 whilst AlphaPlus was paid £20,058.

On results day, the exams authority said SAS had helped it with “formulating a robust and deliverable approach for moderating estimates” of students’ grades.

It added that AlphaPlus had been involved “at each step in the process” of moderation.

When asked about the scandal yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said: “The SQA did the job they were asked to do.

“The Government decided, for reasons I’ve set out, that they should change position and we are in a different position now.

“I personally and the Deputy First Minister have apologised for that.

“That apology would include anything that the SQA had to do that, if we’d taken a different position earlier, they wouldn’t have had to do.”

Ms Sturgeon has also resisted calls for Scotland’s exams chief to resign after thousands of results were marked down during a controversial moderation process.

Asked at her daily coronavirus briefing if there was a “need for fresh leadership in Scotland too” following the controversy, Ms Sturgeon insisted: “No, I don’t think there is.

“I have stood here, I have taken responsibility for what we got wrong with the exams and apologised to young people and their parents and we put it right.

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“That is the position. We took responsibility as ministers, I as First Minister, the Education Secretary, we chose not to do what has been done in England, where civil servants have been left to carry the can and ministers have tried to say it is not their responsibility.

“We didn’t do that. That is our decision and it is for other governments to take decisions of their own.

“We take our own decisions on these matters here in Scotland and what the UK Government does is for them to explain and set out and give a rationale for.”

But opposition parties say that serious questions needed to be answered about the revelations.

“Learning that an additional £140,000 was wasted on this, on top of the SQA’s internal costs only adds to the outrage.”

Iain Gray MSP, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, added: “The SQA have serious questions to answer about why they felt the need to spend money on private companies to do what is their core business.”

In response to the concerns, an SQA spokesman said: “The Scottish Government commissioned SQA to develop an alternative certification model to maintain standards.

“In order to deliver within the necessary timeframe, SQA required additional analytical resource and this was provided through staff secondment, and also by SAS and AlphaPlus.

“Contracts were procured in line with relevant procurement requirements and were contained within pre-agreed SQA budgets.”

Additional Reporting by Tom Martin, Scottish Daily Express Political Editor

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