COVID-19: cancellation of 2021 Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams: FOI release

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

Information requested


  • Shouldn’t the Young People have a say in whether they think Scottish Exams should be cancelled? 
  • What was wrong with using community centre facilities such as halls etc to do exams? Or is that too much money out of your budget as a Government, or is it simply that young people do not matter to you?
  • Send me a report of one or more consultations where Young People were consulted DIRECTLY by the Government in anything related to COVID-19.


The Deputy First Minister acknowledges that young people are rights holders and key stakeholders with the education system. I would assure you that the Deputy First Minister recognises that there is no simple answer that will be right for every learner in the current situation.

The decision to cancel the 2021 exam diet was made on the basis of discussions with a wide range of stakeholders in the education system including teachers and learners. You may wish to note that Mr Swinney met with groups of young people in June, August, October, and December to discuss their experiences and to inform decision making.

The Deputy First Minister outlined in his statement to Parliament on 8 December, that if exams were to take place, these had to be made safe and fair to all learners. You will appreciate that decisions in relation to cancellation of the examination diet have to ensure the safety of young people, and the wider community. We need to recognise that in these circumstances, regrettably, exams cannot take place as normal this year in a school or other setting.

For your information, the Deputy First Minister’s statement to Parliament can be found at:

The difficult decision taken to cancel National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams in 2020-2021 is the fairest way to ensure that learners’ achievements are recognised in the current difficult circumstances. It also recognises that, whilst we hope the public health situation will improve, we cannot guarantee that there will be no further disruption to learning, (e.g. from having to self-isolate).

You may be aware that awards will instead be based on teacher judgement of evidence of learner attainment, supported by local and Scottish Qualifications Authority quality assurance processes. Further detail can be found of the SQA website at:

It is the intention that this assessment model for National 5 will be the basis of a similar process for assessing Higher and Advanced Higher courses in 2020-2021.
In terms of wider engagement with young people, and to ensure that young people are represented in broader education policy-making going forward, a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament is now represented on the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group:

In addition, working with Young Scot and Children in Scotland, we have established the Education Recovery Youth Panel which will run to June 2021. Support is being provided to Young Scot to produce advice and support materials to address young people’s concerns about their mental health and, through their partnership with SQA, to provide information on qualifications and assessment.

You may also wish to be aware that SQA has established a Learner Panel to inform and support the delivery of the National Qualifications assessment approach in 2020-2021. This is in addition to a representative of the Scottish Youth Parliament now sitting on the National Qualifications 2021 Group.

You may be interested in a number of pieces of published research, supported by the Scottish Government, which sought young people’s views in relation to Covid-19. Relevant links are included below:

Lockdown Lowdown survey of 11-15 year olds

Lockdown Lowdown focus groups with 14 to 24 year olds from seldom heard groups dec2020-lockdownlowdown-voice-seldom-heard-groups-covid19-pandemic-updated-december-2020.pdf (

Children’s parliament How are you doing? Survey of 8 to 14 year olds How are you doing_Survey_Final (

Children’s parliament qualitative research with 3-7 year olds 15 Stories - Children's Parliament

In support of the third part of your request I enclose further information setting out the occasions of where the Deputy First Minister, or Scottish Government Officials, have met with learners to better understand their views.

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(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(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. While we recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, 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

FoI-202000121881 - Information released


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Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
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