Publication - FOI/EIR release

First Minister, Deputy First Minister and SQA 2020 exam methodology correspondence: FOI release

Published: 21 Oct 2020

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Published:
21 Oct 2020
First Minister, Deputy First Minister and SQA 2020 exam methodology correspondence: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000072824
Date received: 7 Aug 2020
Date responded: 4 Sep 2020
Information requested

1. All briefing notes, meetings, minutes, memos, emails and written notes regarding meetings between Education Secretary John Swinney and the Scottish Qualifications Authority regarding the marking and grading methodology for the 2020 Scottish National 4, National 5 and Higher qualifications.

2. All briefing notes, meetings, minutes, memos, emails and written notes regarding meetings between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Qualifications Authority regarding the marking and grading methodology for the 2020 Scottish National 4, National 5 and Higher qualifications.

Response

Attached is a copy of the information requested.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because exemptions under section 30(b)(ii) (substantial inhibition of free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation), section 30(c) (substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) and section 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to that information.

An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues and options with external stakeholders before the Scottish Government reaches a
settled public view. Disclosing the content of these discussions with SQA, ADES and EIS on qualifications policy will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, because these stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that those views are likely to be made public, particularly where discussions on the impact of COVID-19 on the assessment of qualifications is ongoing.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is some public interest disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in allowing Ministers and officials a private space within which to communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government’s policy position on qualifications, until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy that is sound and likely to be effective. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by SQA, ADES and EIS. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between the Scottish Government and these stakeholders, which in turn will undermine the quality of the policy making process, which would not be in the public interest.

An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. Disclosing this information would substantially prejudice our ability to conduct secure meetings by teleconference because we would not be able to reuse links, IDs and passcodes, or use similar ones, with confidence if that information were published. This would constitute substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs in terms of the
exemption.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of the this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is a public interest in release in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining secure lines of remote communication to ensure that the Scottish Government is able to conduct its business effectively.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested because it is personal data of a third party, i.e. names and contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018.

This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG