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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.


6. Impact(s) across protected characteristics

The summary below collates findings across each protected characteristic listed:

Senior Phase Learners

Age

The Priestley Review identified groups of learners who may have been disproportionally affected by the results process in session 19/20. These groups include learners who experienced extended periods of illness, experienced extenuating circumstances such as bereavement, learners who were care experienced and learners with little or no access to IT (including broadband connections). It is not possible to identify whether the learners consulted shared any protected characteristics. However, there would be a likely link between these groups and the ability to fully prepare for National Qualifications in session 2020/21. Removal of examinations and the reduction in course content would reduce the inequity faced by these groups by providing greater opportunity for learning.

Views expressed by EIS and other teacher representative bodies, have expressed that the differing and often significant impact of Covid-19 on many young people, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds, mean that an exam diet in 2021 would not be in the best interest of young people and potentially unfair to those who have faced greater disruption.

Anecdotal data from local authorities (via Education Scotland) reported that staff and pupil absences were having a variable impact on their ability to deliver Higher and Advanced Higher courses. They also reported equity-related concerns about a potential disproportionate impact on particular groups of learners, including those living in poverty.

Extra evidence via the “lockdown lowdown” reports from Young Scot, Youthlink and the Scottish Youth Parliament were also considered. These were undertaken at key points throughout 2020 to gauge young people’s views on the impact of Covid-19 on their lives, including but not limited to their educational experiences. Their reports broke down their data according to rural/urban experiences, SIMD, age, gender, and ethnicity. This data did not provide evidence that this decision would have a disproportionate impact on the basis of age.

There is no further evidence available at this time to suggest that this decision will have a disproportionate impact on the basis of age. Therefore, it is not possible to identify whether there will be a positive, negative or neutral effect on the three needs of the PSED.

Disability

As per the Priestley Review, the groups of learners more disproportionately affected by the results processes in session 19/20 overlap those who may be more affected by Covid-19. Learners who fall ill from Covid-19, or are forced to shield due to family members or those they have been in close contact with Covid-19, are more likely to come from areas of deprivation. Likewise pupils from more deprived deciles may lack the technology required to fully engage in learning.

We also know that people with disabilities and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately affected by Covid-19, which would suggest that school children of these protected characteristics would also feel the effect.

SQA have reported that the responses received to their consultation focussed on general issues of equity rather than protected characteristics. For example, learners may face difficulties accessing ICT (including issues relating to the digital divide and correlation with more deprived areas); the disparity between what support learners of different backgrounds may get from home (e.g. those from more deprived areas perhaps accessing less support from parents/carers); differential access to blended learning experiences; learners with ASN or those with underlying health issues who will need to stringently social distance could be disadvantaged by exams.

  • SQA’s EQIA have considered the potential impacts to learners of: the removal of question paper (i.e. the exam); changes to question papers; removal of and/or modification of coursework. They have undertaken this exercise for each course at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. This includes consideration of the impact of these changes to all protected characteristics groups. SQA’s work examined the effect that continuing with exams would pose to protected characteristics groupings. For example: Disability learners who have difficulty concentrating for extended period and maintaining focus may find exams under stringent social distancing measures stressful and have difficulties demonstrating their attainment.

Therefore, we envisage this policy will have a positive effect by eliminating discrimination, advancing equality for these learners and fostering good relations, as these learners will not experience the perceived pressure of exams.

Within the Ministerial led panel discussions with young people there was a high degree of anxiety being reported by young people in respect of the current proposals and the impact on those learners with additional support needs or with protected characteristics or from certain socio-economic backgrounds, but also on the loss of learning and teaching for those affected by Covid-19.

Sex

Extra evidence via the “lockdown lowdown” reports from Young Scot, Youthlink and the Scottish Youth Parliament were also considered. These were undertaken at key points throughout 2020 to gauge young people’s views on the impact of Covid-19 on their lives, including but not limited to their educational experiences. Their reports broke down their data according to rural/urban experiences, SIMD, age, gender, and ethnicity.

This data did not provide evidence that this decision would have a disproportionate impact on the basis of gender.

There is no further evidence available at this time to suggest that this decision will have a disproportionate impact on the basis of gender. Therefore, it is not possible to identify whether there will be a positive, negative or neutral effect on the three needs of the PSED.

Gender reassignment

SQA’s EQIA have considered the potential impacts to learners of: the removal of question paper (i.e. the exam); changes to question papers; removal of and/or modification of coursework. They have undertaken this exercise for each course at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. This includes consideration of the impact of these changes to all protected characteristics groups. SQA’s work examined the effect that continuing with exams would pose to protected characteristics groupings.

This data did not provide evidence that this decision would have a disproportionate impact on the basis of gender reassignment, nor is there any further evidence available at this time to demonstrate this. Therefore it is not possible to identify whether there will be a positive, negative or neutral effect on the three needs of the PSED.

Sexual Orientation

We are not aware of any specific evidence from data that indicates whether the cancellation of exams could impact positively or negatively on this protected characteristic.

Race

As per the Priestley Review, the groups of learners more disproportionately affected by the results processes in session 19/20 overlap those who may be more affected by Covid-19. Learners who fall ill from Covid-19, or are forced to shield due to family members or those they have been in close contact with Covid-19, are more likely to come from areas of deprivation. Likewise pupils from more deprived deciles may lack the technology required to fully engage in learning.

We also know that people with disabilities and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately affected by Covid-19, which would suggest that school children of these protected characteristics would also feel the effect.

When considering attendance rates across protected characteristics (Annex D), it is noted that whilst attendance rates across Ethnic Background do vary across ethnic categories, they do not show any distinct pattern. For example, whilst pupils from an Asian background tended to have an absence rate “due to any Covid-19 related reason” that was greater than the “all backgrounds” figure, pupils from an African/Black/Caribbean background tended to be below “all backgrounds” average.

Extra evidence via the “lockdown lowdown” reports from Young Scot, Youthlink and the Scottish Youth Parliament were also considered. These were undertaken at key points throughout 2020 to gauge young people’s views on the impact of Covid-19 on their lives, including but not limited to their educational experiences. Their reports broke down their data according to rural/urban experiences, SIMD, age, gender, and ethnicity.

Their first report (published in May 2020) found that 49% of their respondents were moderately or extremely concerned about exams and coursework. It also showed that respondents in areas of higher deprivation were more concerned about this issue than those in lower Quintiles. High levels of concern over exams or coursework were reported amongst learners who identified themselves as Asian/Asian British or Black, African, Caribbean or Black British.

This suggests the decision to cancel exams could have a positive or negative impact on these learners, depending on their learning preferences. In turn, it is not possible to identify whether there will be a positive, negative or neutral effect on the three needs of the PSED.

Pregnancy and Maternity

SQA’s EQIA have considered the potential impacts to learners of: the removal of question paper (i.e. the exam); changes to question papers; removal of and/or modification of coursework. They have undertaken this exercise for each course at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. This includes consideration of the impact of these changes to all protected characteristics groups. SQA’s work examined the effect that continuing with exams would pose to protected characteristics groupings. For example: Pregnancy and maternity and gender re-assignment – learners who are due to give birth during the exam period be adversely affected by the reliance on an exam, and their ability to prepare for it.

This data suggests that this decision could have a positive impact on the basis of pregnancy and maternity, and will eliminate discrimination, advance equality for these learners and fostering good relations.

Religion or Belief

  • SQA’s EQIA have considered the potential impacts to learners of: the removal of question paper (i.e. the exam); changes to question papers; removal of and/or modification of coursework. They have undertaken this exercise for each course at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. This includes consideration of the impact of these changes to all protected characteristics groups. SQA’s work examined the effect that continuing with exams would pose to protected characteristics groupings. For example: Religion and belief Ramadan is due to fall during the exam diet 2021 and those fasting because of religious beliefs may experiences a higher level of fatigue.

Therefore this may have a positive effect on these learners, and help to advance equality of opportunity, as it will mitigate the fatigue experienced by learners who are fasting.

Contact

Email: stuart.milligan@gov.scot

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