SQA strike 2022: why are Scottish exam staff striking, will appeals be affected, and when could it take place?

SQA staff have voted to back strike action after Unite said that workers had been offered a ‘derisory’ pay offer

Scottish school pupils could be set to face delays to their exam appeals process, after Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

There has been a warning from the union Unite that the appeals process - which allows pupils to appeal their initial exam results - could be “severely delayed” as staff prepare to walk out.

Many pupils may be awaiting on an overturned result to confirm their university, collage or apprenticeship places, however Unite have said that staff have voted in favour of the industrial action after receiving a “derisory” pay offer.

It comes as a number of other strike action is taking place across Scotland with bins strikes underway and schools and early years staff set to take industrial action next month.

Appeals for thousands of Scottish school pupils could be delayed after SQA staff voted to strike next month. (Credit: Getty Images)

Why have SQA staff voted in favour of striking?

Unite confirmed that 86.7% of its SQA members voted in favour of striking, on a 78.9% turnout. 95.9% of members voted in favour of taking action short of a strike.

Alison MacLean, an industrial officer at the union, said that members had become “disillusioned, frustrated and angry” after receiving a pay rise offer which ranged from 1.4% to 4%.

Ms MacLean explained: “Tens of thousands of student appeals will be severely delayed by Unite’s industrial action at the SQA. Our members are disillusioned, frustrated and angry.

“Not only have they been offered a brutal real terms pay cut but they have in effect been locked out of the ongoing discussions surrounding education reform.

Staff are said to be concerned about the future of the their jobs, with the SQA set to be disbanded and replaced with three new education bodies in the near future.

This will include a qualifications body, a national agency for education and an independent inspection body, which was approved after being recommended by Professor Ken Muir.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, added: “Unite’s SQA members have emphatically supported strike action due to a derisory pay offer which is worth as low as 1.7% for some workers.

“There are serious concerns over education reform in Scotland, and specifically what this means for the jobs of our members going forward.

“These concerns have in no way, shape or form been addressed. Unite will always defend our members’ jobs, pay and conditions.”

When could SQA strikes take place?

If talks between Unite, workers and SQA bosses continue to stall, strike action could happen as soon as next month.

Unite have confirmed staff will walk out on 8, 15 and 16 September, with an overtime ban and a ban on accrual of time off in lieu in place from 8 September until 30 November, if a deal is not reached.

The strike timeline will come at a busy time for SQA staff, who would normally be working on exam result appeals for thousands of students across the country.

It has been estimated around 22,000 standard appeals could be affected if the strike action goes ahead.

Priority appeals are due to be confirmed by SQA to the UCAS admissions service on 6 September - two days before staff are due to strike.

What has the SQA said about the strikes?

The SQA has said that, as a public sector organisation, a pay offer is subject support from the Scottish Government.

A spokesperson for SQA said: “We fully recognise the impact that the cost of living is having on staff and remain in close dialogue with the trade unions with a view to reaching a fair outcome on pay.

“As a public sector employer funded by the Scottish Government, we are working with the Scottish Government to seek agreement to improve our pay offer.

“We are very disappointed that industrial action has been called before the dispute resolution process has concluded.

“However, as always our primary focus is on learners, and it is important to stress that anyone waiting for the outcome of a priority appeal to secure a university place or job will be unaffected.”

Unite has confirmed it has written to Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville to reiterate concerns raised by staff on education reform.

The Scottish Government has said it will continue to consult with the SQA, its staff an unions as the dispute rumbles on, with a spokeswoman saying: “While this is a matter for SQA as the employer, we remain in close contact with them to ensure that resolution talks resume. We hope that any potential disruption can be avoided through further negotiation.

“The Scottish Government remains committed to ensuring that workers’ rights are protected throughout the process of education reform and when the SQA is replaced by a new qualifications body.

“We will continue to engage with SQA management, staff and unions to try to address the concerns raised.”