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.

3. Scope of this Equality and Fairer Scotland Impact Assessment

This document assesses the impact of cancelling exams for National 5, Highers and Advanced Highers in 2021, and replacing these with an alternative certification model (ACM). It assesses the impact on learners with protected characteristics and other groups of learners such as those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.

It is not an assessment of the impact of the ACM. This is being undertaken by SQA when co-designing the model with members of the National Qualifications 2021 Group, which comprises teacher and college representative bodies, ADES, SLS, Education Scotland, and others.

The change to the assessment and certification process predominately affects young people, in a school environment, but there are a small number of learners that will be affected out with the school environment, either in a college setting or through home schooling and private candidacy.

This impact assessment has been developed by a process of gathering, assessing and acting upon key equalities evidence. It assesses the impact of cancelling exams on learners with protected characteristics and in lower socio-economic demographics, to ensure that, as far as possible, learners in any of these groups would not be disadvantaged by the decision to cancel National Qualifications exams in 2021.

For example, SQA’s consultation exercise looked at the detrimental effect of continuing with exams (under Covid-19 conditions) to learners with disabilities who may find the additional safety measures stressful. Likewise, their consultation exercise considered what the negative impacts might be on those learners with particular religions/beliefs if exams were to continue. Professor Priestley’s review of the National Qualifications 2020 experience and the school attendance figures suggests that learners who fall ill from Covid-19, who are shielding/or in a shielding household, have a disability, are a minority ethnic group or are care experienced, may be positively impacted by the cancellation of exams and replacement with an ACM.

In developing this impact assessment, the Scottish Government has a duty to meet the three needs of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) - eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation; advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not; and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. The Scottish Government recognises while the measures may positively impact on one or more of the protected characteristics[6], it also recognises that the introduction of the measures may have a disproportionate negative impact on one or more of the protected characteristics. Where any negative impacts have been identified, we have sought to mitigate/eliminate these. We are also mindful that the equality duty is not just about negating or mitigating negative impacts, as we also have a positive duty to promote equality. We have sought to do this in making clear our expectations that any alternative to exams be based on evidence of learners’ achievements, rather than an algorithm or a school’s historical attainment data.

The Scottish Government is also required under the Fairer Scotland Duty to actively consider how they can reduce inequalities of outcome caused by socio-economic disadvantage, when making strategic decisions.

It must be recognised that the Scottish Government has been clear that an attainment gap does exist in Scottish education, and that significant steps and investment are being undertaken to reduce it. The disadvantage, discrimination and attainment gap that some learners may have already experience has been exacerbated by Covid-related restrictions, including decisions on qualifications and assessment. This has been at the centre of the Scottish Ministers’ considerations, and is considered further in the sections below.

This document combines the Scottish Government's statutory duties to the following impact assessments:

Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA)

In line with the Equality Act 2010, the nine protected characteristics being considered are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Gender reassignment
  • Pregnancy & maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage & civil partnership[7]

Given the importance of assessing the impact on each of the protected characteristics, the Scottish Government has considered the effect of these measures against the needs of the general equality duty as set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. This has been considered where the evidence and data allows consideration of the potential impact on learners who share protected characteristics. The Scottish Government has also considered whether the measures could constitute direct and/or indirect discrimination (see Section 5 and 6).

Specifically, the EQIA part of this assessment considers impacts on equalities groups based on the three tests it is required to address:

  • Does this policy eliminate discrimination for each of the nine protected characteristics? If not, is the discrimination justifiable? Can it be mitigated?
  • Does this policy advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not?
  • Does this policy foster good community relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not?

Education centres and authorities have a duty not to discriminate against learners with protected characteristics. This duty includes the way education is provided, access to a benefit, facility or service, and exclusion. They must not treat disabled learners less favourably and must take reasonable steps to avoid putting these learners at a substantial disadvantage.

Public sector organisations are also required to collaborate with each other to take actions necessary to uphold rights and safeguard wellbeing of looked after children, young people and care leavers, as set out in part 9 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (corporate parenting). This means public sector organisations must think carefully about their organisation’s role and to listen to what looked after children and care leavers need so that no unnecessary disadvantages are experienced.

Fairer Scotland Duty Assessment (FSDA)

In line with the Equality Act (2010), and the Scottish Government's commitment to Fairer Scotland Duty Assessments since April 2018, this document will also consider how the policy may affect any inequalities of outcome for members of society experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.

We have utilised the definition of ‘socio-economic disadvantage’ used in the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland Duty Guidance[8], meaning:

“Anyone living on a low income compared to others in Scotland, with little or no accumulated wealth, leading to greater material deprivation, restricting the ability to access basic goods and services…can be experienced in both places and communities of interest, leading to further negative outcomes such as social exclusion. ”

The key questions considered in Section 6 are:

  • What will the potential policy impacts on inequalities of outcome associated with socio-economic disadvantage be?
  • Are some communities of interest or place more affected by disadvantage than others, and how can these outcomes be mitigated against?
  • How will this policy assist in reducing inequality in outcomes?
  • What evidence exists to assess any socio-economic disadvantage and associated inequality?
  • How do we include the voice of communities of interest/place in the policy considerations and decision making process?

The Scottish Government will keep all mitigating actions, and positive and negative impacts, under review. This impact assessment is a living document and as such we will also continue to consider and use any newly identified evidence, as it relates to each of the protected characteristics. We will make further adjustments, as appropriate, as we wish to ensure that equality and human rights are central to this process.



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