Coronavirus (COVID-19) education recovery: key actions and next steps

Outlines our ongoing response to the impacts of the pandemic on education in Scotland, and sets out some key next steps we will take to address them.

7. National Qualifications

The last two academic sessions have been challenging ones, for learners, parents, teachers and others across our education system, particularly in relation to qualifications.

One key decision in 2020-21, reflecting disruption to learning as a result of COVID-19, was that a normal diet of examinations could not go ahead. Decisions such as this have been led, and will continue to be led, by the science, informed by the views and concerns of stakeholders.

An Alternative Certification Model (ACM) was put in place for 2020-21, taking into account the disruption to learning and providing a flexible framework for schools and colleges to draw upon a range of assessment tools in arriving at provisional results for learners based on professional judgement of demonstrated attainment.

Taking into account recommendations from the National Qualifications experience 2020 rapid review, the ACM was arrived at through a collaborative approach. The National Qualifications 2021 Group, chaired by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), co-created the model and continue to monitor and oversee implementation. The Group draws its membership from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, Colleges Scotland, Education Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland, School Leaders Scotland, the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, the Scottish Government, the National Parent Forum of Scotland, and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Provisional results were shared with learners by their centres in advance of the 25 June deadline for submission to SQA. In line with the manifesto commitments for the first 100 days of the new government, SQA progressed with formal certification of these results taking place as scheduled on 10 August.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, a very strong set of results were delivered for the 2021 National Qualifications. Almost 137,000 candidates received their formal results from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) on 10 August – the highest number of certificates since 2017. Although down very slightly on 2020, pass rates remain very high overall. Above all, the National Qualifications were credible and valid in spite of the unique circumstances, and they are enabling learners to continue on the next steps in their learner journey.

In recognition of the ongoing disruption through May and into June in some parts of Scotland, a contingency arrangement was put in place for learners who had completed their courses but for whom, due to particularly significant disruption, the required evidence demonstrating their attainment could not be gathered within the flexibilities already provided. A later submission date for provisional results of 3 September was agreed for these candidates.

For learners unhappy with their results, the 2021 appeals process opened on 25 June allowing a direct right of appeal. From that date, learners were able to indicate an intention to appeal, with the formal appeals process commencing once results were published on 10 August, and registration of appeals closed on Friday 27 August.

Ongoing support was available to learners throughout the summer from various agencies, including advice and guidance on onward progression routes.

It was confirmed on 18 August that the central planning assumption for session 2021-22 is that examinations will proceed in 2022 for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, with a range modifications for subjects (as previously confirmed by SQA in June).

In the event that additional disruption is experienced, additional adaptations to the exams will be considered. These may include adaptations to the content of the papers, such as the removal of certain content, or an indication to learners of the topics to be covered, through to the physical arrangements for sitting the papers, such as the use of multiple classrooms rather than assembly or gym halls, if public health advice advises certain approaches to large gatherings.

A further contingency arrangement will be in place for the possibility of more significant disruption, and with it public health advice advising against large gatherings of people, which would lead to the cancellation of exams – such as we have seen in the past two academic sessions. In this case, we will look to draw on planned assessments gathered at appropriate times throughout the year. Guidance on this arrangement will be provided at the earliest opportunity to ensure that the volume and gathering of evidence is robust, reliable and proportionate.

Next Steps

In addition to the work set out above, we will take the following key next steps to ensure our approach to national qualifications and assessment is robust and resilient, and supports recovery from the impacts of COVID-19:

(1) Throughout the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, we will continue to monitor the approach to National Qualifications, taking action and implementing any contingencies if necessary to mitigate any further disruption for learners and the teaching/lecturer workforce whilst ensuring that fairness and credibility of the qualifications is maintained;

(2) Fairness for learners sitting exams in 2022 is a central concern. We will set out details on further support available for learners by the end of October; and

(3) We will work with partners to develop the future approach to assessment beyond 2022, informed by the OECD's report on comparative analysis of assessment and qualifications approaches published at the end of August.



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