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.

7. Conclusion

This document has set out an overview of the range of impacts which the decision to replace National Qualifications exams in 2021 with an alternative certification model, will have on learners. It has also illustrated the extent of the differential impact of Covid-19 on individual learners and schools at the start of the 2020-21 academic year, alongside the breadth of stakeholder views on this matter.

It has been noted in Sections 4 and 5 that a range of views exist amongst stakeholders including but not limited to teachers, young people, and parents/carers. Some views expressed are supportive of the policy decision (to cancel exams and replace with an alternative model) and others are not.

Key concerns regarding equity and fairness:

  • Attendance rates – this document has shown evidence that there exists variability in Covid-19 related absence rates across SIMD and Local Authority. This variability of lost learning time raises an issue of fairness for learners. While exams can be modified to address generic learning loss, it is not possible for them to be adjusted to address differential loss. Feedback from practitioners suggested that an alternative approach to awarding qualifications based on teacher judgement is likely to better account for differential loss of learning.
  • Quality of learner(s) experience when absent - The feedback received from practitioners, either directly to the Scottish Government or via groups such as the CERG, QCG, CAB and National Qualifications 2021 groups did, however, highlights there is no consistent approach to the level of support learners receive when not in school or college whilst self-isolating or during remote learning. Therefore the impact on learning time will vary by individual occurrences of illness, self-isolation or experience of remote learning, and by which school or college the learner attends. There is a broad guide to the amount of teaching time and study required to complete different National Qualification courses, however, as each learner’s ability and approach to each course may differ, there is no robust way to estimate the impact of net lost learning time on potential performance in a standardised way.

Overall, the majority view of stakeholders was that given the impact of disrupted learning for some learners, particularly those in areas of greater deprivation, of Covid-19 and the likely physical disruption to holding an exam diet, that cancelling the exam diet and replacing with an ACM was a fairer, more equitable, approach. By providing increased time to complete courses, by the removal of course content, the reduction in assessment and in freeing up the time used for examination preparation, the decision to cancel examinations allows those learners who may have experienced more disruption in their learning to continue to work towards successful course outcomes.

Stakeholders views indicate that the decision to cancel exams has a positive effect in terms of eliminating discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity by the introduction of a fairer, more equitable approach and it may also foster good relations by raising awareness of people’s diverse needs.

In addition to the analysis set out in this document, the Scottish Government continues to engage and listen to the views of learners and other education stakeholders via its governance structures – the CERG, Qualifications Contingency Group and CAB. This will include continued consideration of how the ACM can advance equality of opportunity, alongside eliminating or mitigating against any discrimination in relation to protected characteristics. It has also helped improve our understanding of the needs of people with certain protected characteristics.

The National Qualifications 2021 Group, chaired by SQA and with representatives from teacher and college bodies, ADES, SLS, Education Scotland, young people via the Scottish Youth Parliament, parents and other key stakeholders is meeting regularly to advance work on the ACM for 2021, and to ensure this is communicated clearly and effectively. The members of this group represent their individual bodies and the range of experiences and views held. SQA have also established their own Learner Panel to inform this work and future activities.

SQA have produced an EQIA[20] and CRWIA[21] on the ACM which includes consideration of socio-economic disadvantage. These will continue to be developed as SQA progress work on the appeals process for 2021.

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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