Coronavirus (COVID-19) - replacement of National Qualifications exams in 2021 session: equalities impact and Fairer Scotland Duty assessment

Equality impact assessment to consider the impacts on groups with protected characteristics and/or those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage of replacing the examination diet for National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers in 2020 to 2021 with an alternative certification model.

1. Executive Summary

The aim of the policy to replace National Qualifications exams in 2020-21 session with an alternative certification model[1] (ACM) is to address the differential impact of Covid-19 across the country and to individual learners. This decision, by Scottish Ministers, has fairness at its heart, recognising the disproportionate impact caused by Covid-19 on Scotland’s poorest and older pupils, and the lessons learnt from awarding in 2020.

This document is an assessment of the impact of replacing the exams for National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers for the 2020-21 school year with an ACM (co-designed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and key stakeholders) on groups with protected characteristics and/or those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, and collates the considerations of:

  • An Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA)
  • A Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA)

It primarily focuses on the discrimination and advancement of equality of opportunity elements of the policy decision but also seeks to foster greater understanding of learners’ needs and relations with these groups of learners.

A Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) scoping exercise has been considered separately, and we have concluded that a full CRWIA isn’t necessary. We will publish this scoping exercise.

Please note, this is not an EQIA and FSDA assessment of the ACM. This is being undertaken by SQA who are responsible for developing this approach in conjunction with members of the National Qualifications 2021 Group. This Group was established to co-create the ACM for 2021, and is chaired by SQA and draws its membership from representative of Colleges Scotland, Education Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), School Leaders Scotland (SLS), the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the Scottish Government, National Parent Forum of Scotland, and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

This EQIA and FSDA does, however, build on the EQIA and CRWIA entitled ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) teacher and lecturer estimates - 2020 results: EQIA’ - ( It also considers the advice of, and measures that have been put in place since the independent Priestley review[2] reported in October 2020.

In summary, this policy decision has been informed by the views of stakeholders, including young people, parents and teachers, alongside data on the spread of Covid-19 in our communities. The cancellation of the exams for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher in 2020-21 session and replacement by an approach based on teacher judgement of evidence of pupil attainment is considered the fairest way to ensure that learners’ achievements are recognised in the current difficult circumstances.

Overall the evidence gathered and the analysis of that evidence for the EQIA and FSDA process did not identify any indirect or direct discrimination to learners with protected characteristics or socio-economic inequality through the policy intention or design to replace National Qualification exams in 2021 with an ACM.



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