NELSON Mandela described education as the “most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. His words have particular resonance as we have last week seen the scandal of an SQA results system which has, by design, penalised children from deprived backgrounds simply because of where they go to school.

We know, to this country’s shame, that some of our most disadvantaged kids have the odds stacked against them due to their socio-economic status. Last year, the chief statistician released figures showing that the gap between the proportion of primary pupils from the most and least deprived areas who achieved their expected levels of literacy was 19.2 points in P1, growing to a 21.5 point gap in P4 and P7. For numeracy, a 13 point gap in P1 grows to 18.3 points in P4 and a shocking 19.3 point gap in P7. The SNP have controlled Scotland’s education system for 13 years and what do they have to show for it? Despite Nicola Sturgeon claiming that education would be the number one priority of her government, her most high-profile achievement of recent years was succeeding in pulling Scotland out of international league tables to try to mask failures.

This year, in the context of the current crisis, no one would seek to downplay the difficulty in overhauling the examination system to provide pupils with fair and credible results based on the evidence provided by teachers. The problem that has presented itself is that the SQA saw fit, with the blessing of the Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney MSP, to ride roughshod over the expertise of our highly qualified teachers in seeking to statistically moderate results.

This process of moderation, was underpinned by the past performance of schools, institutionalised the attainment gap by disproportionately penalising bright pupils from deprived backgrounds. Social media has been awash with straight-A students downgraded to C grades or worse as a result of this methodology.

The Scottish Government’s response to this legitimate anger has been to rely on an appeals process to rectify “individual injustices”. This is a ludicrous state of affairs and an admission of what students in George Square on Friday were protesting about – that their performances have been skewed based on factors totally outwith their control. Appeals exist to fix mistakes and this was not that – this was a methodology marking poorer kids down.

In my own patch of Shettleston, representing some of the most deprived communities in the country, I was disappointed to see John Mason MSP uncharacteristically silent on this issue. However, after engaging with him on social media I wish he hadn’t said anything at all. In reference to young people from deprived backgrounds, he said that “it does not sound like they have been penalised” and “I accept people are disappointed ... but their lives are not in tatters”. I would invite John to speak to some of the students and learn how their hard work and determination has been dashed as a result of his government’s failures”.

Last week, Nicola Sturgeon admitted that, had she been a young person today, she would have probably joined the students protesting on Friday. This is a bizarre statement regarding a policy of her own government but is unfortunately typical of how the SNP attempt to avoid responsibility and shirk scrutiny of their own record. The protests are against your government’s handling of these results, First Minister, and if you think the concerns are valid enough that you would attend, then perhaps you should instead focus on directing your Education Secretary to rectify the problem with the urgency it deserves. And if he can’t, then find someone else who can.