Information relating to Higher and Advance Higher exams 2021: FOI release

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

Information requested

The Scottish Government has previously announced that National 5 exam diets would be cancelled but that Higher and Advanced Higher diets would go ahead. Education secretary John Swinney has since stated that alternate approaches have been developed and that a decision could be made as late as February to switch to these.

1. All material detailing why a deadline of February has been set for a decision regarding changes to planned approaches for exams.

2. All material detailing the potential triggers that could lead to a decision to cancel exam diets for Higher and Advanced Higher and switch to alternative plans.

This should include, but is not necessarily limited to, briefing documents, internal/external communications (with attachments), full records of relevant meetings etc.


Attached is a copy of the information you requested in the first part of your request. Since the decision announced on 7 October to cancel National 5 examinations, the Scottish Government and Deputy First Minister have been consistent and clear in stating that the latest point at which a decision would be taken regarding Higher and Advanced Higher exams was the February break and that the decision would be kept under review with key points in advance of that.

You will be aware that on 8 December the Deputy First Minister announced that the Higher and Advanced Higher exams will now not go ahead in 2021. Further details can be found in the Deputy First Minister’s statement to Parliament and Scottish Government news release.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, ie names/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.

Some of the information you have requested is available from the Scottish Government webiste ( More specific links have been provided in the enclosures. Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you.

With respect to the second part of your request, the Scottish Government does not have the information you asked for because there is no defined set of potential triggers that could lead to a decision to cancel exam diets for Higher and Advanced Higher and switch to alternative plans. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. 

There are, however, a number of sources that were kept under review to inform this decision. These include:

  • Current public health advice, which itself is based on a range of evidence. If you are interested in this, you may find the data available on the Scottish Government website helpful (
  • School attendance data for Senior Phase pupils (S4-S6) for Scotland, including by region and Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).
  • The views of the Chief Inspector of Education and of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
  • The views of teacher unions, ADES, COSLA, further and higher education representatives, parents and carers, and learners via forums such as but not limited to the Qualifications Contingency Group, National Qualifications 2021 Group, and Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG).
  • Approaches being taken to 2021 exams in other parts of the United Kingdom

About FOI
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at

FOI202000114519 - Information released


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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