Information

Information regarding changes to the appeal process of the SQA: FOI review

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004


Information requested

Your request, reference 202100213816
1. If the Scottish Government held a consultation process ahead of the changes to the appeals process of the SQA in 2014. If so, please provide the outcome and results of the consultation.

2. Please provide the minutes of any meeting that took place between any Scottish Government minister or official and the SQA ahead of the changes to the exams process of 2021.

3. Please provide the results of any consultation conducted ahead of the proposed changes to exams in 2021 by the Scottish government.

4. Please provide any evidence showing the progress made by John Swinney's commitment in Parliament to asking the SQA about the possibility of publishing exam answers.

Your review request, reference 202100247971
Given the repeated delays in making available the information I requested, I am now, on the basis of the procedures outlined by the SIC, requesting a review,

Response

In accordance with section 21(4) of FOISA, I have also reached a decision on your request.

I apologise sincerely for the delay in responding to your request. You will appreciate that there has been a much higher than usual volume of enquiries in this area, including a high number of FOI requests as well as non-FOI work relating to qualifications. This workload has been further compounded by staff movement and absence. These factors have unfortunately meant that some work, including your FOI, has been unavoidably delayed.

I can now provide our response to your original request.

1. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

You will be aware that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is an executive Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB). As an NDPB SQA operates at arm’s length to Ministers as set out under the Education (Scotland) Act 1996. It follows that SQA is responsible for making its own operational decisions, including decisions about the replacement of the previous appeals system with the Post Results Service.

While the Scottish Government does not hold information about the consultation and engagement process, we understand from information produced at the time that, following consultation with schools, colleges and other stakeholders, SQA announced the decision to replace Appeals in January 2012. SQA issued several publications on Results Services, some targeted specifically at parents and candidates, and wrote to all candidates in February 2014 to detail the change. Information about Results Services also appeared in SQA’s publication 'Your Exams' which went to every candidate taking National Courses.

The Appeals system was duly replaced by the Post Results Service, through which a centre could request a Clerical Check, a Marking Review or a Priority Marking Review. In addition to the Post Results Service, the pre-results Exceptional Circumstance service addresses the needs of candidates who may be unable to attend an examination due to an exceptional circumstance, such as illness or bereavement, or whose performance on the day was affected by such a circumstance.

I would note our response to you of 11 November (Our Ref 202100210124/202100247961), which provided additional information in relation to the replacement of the previous Appeals system with the Post Results Service.

You may also wish to contact SQA at How to access information - SQA who may be able to help you.

2. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

With regard to ‘changes ahead of the exams process of 2021’ we consider there to have been three relevant points; the announcement on 7 October 2020 that National 5 examinations would not go ahead, the announcement on 8 December 2020 of the cancellation of Higher and Advanced Higher examinations, and the announcement of the detail of the alternative certification model (ACM) on 16 February 2021.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government and SQA have maintained ongoing communication to ensure that young people’s achievements could be recognised, despite these difficult
circumstances. Scottish Minsters have been sighted on and provided input on developments where appropriate. This process included bilateral meetings between a Scottish Minister or official and SQA. Minutes were not routinely taken of these meetings in the time period you requested.

SQA is represented on the Curriculum and Assessment Boad and the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group, for which published minutes can be found at Curriculum and Assessment Board - gov.scot (www.gov.scot) and COVID-19 Education Recovery Group - gov.scot (www.gov.scot) respectively.

You may wish to note that the Scottish Government is also represented on the National Qualifications 2021 Group (now the 2022 Group), which is chaired by SQA. This group maintains oversight of the delivery of the National Qualifications and informs judgements on any changes to delivery. The NQ Group meets regularly and has representation from the following organisations: Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), Colleges Scotland, Education Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) School Leaders Scotland (SLS), the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the Scottish Government and the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP).

3. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

Decisions on cancellation of the exams were taken by Scottish Ministers. While there was no formal consultation on this decision, it was informed by the views of stakeholders (including the outcomes of the
National Qualifications experience 2020: Rapid Review), and by public health advice.

The National Qualifications experience 2020 rapid review report can be found at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/rapid-review-national-qualifications-experience-2020/.

The Scottish Government’s response to the report’s recommendations can be found at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/rapid-review-of-national-qualifications-experience-2020-ourresponse/.

Officials engaged with stakeholders (teachers and teacher representatives, learners, parents, and others) to understand their views about the delivery of qualifications through a variety of fora, including the Curriculum Assessment Board, Covid-19 Education Recovery Group and the Teacher Panel (Teacher Panel - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)).

SQA is an NDPB and operates at arm’s length to Ministers. It follows that, subsequent to the Ministerial decision to cancel the exams, changes to the approach and method of assessment fell within SQA’s operational remit, as did any consultation and engagement about such changes. You may therefore wish to approach SQA at How to access information - SQA directly on this matter.

You may wish to note that SQA conducted a rapid consultation exercise in August 2020, setting out proposed modifications that could be made to each course to support teachers, lecturers and candidates in session 2020–21, and explaining the principles and rationale behind these proposed modifications.

You may find the following links helpful in setting out the rationale for the decisions.

The Deputy First Minister’s 7 October statement to Parliament can be found at: https://news.gov.scot/speeches-and-briefings/deputy-first-ministers-speech-on-sqa-awards-2021.

The Deputy First Minister’s 8 December statement to Parliament can be found at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/ministerial-statement-deputy-first-minister-john-swinney-scottishparliament-
education-sector-tuesday-8-december-2020/
.

On 16 February, the First Minister announced the publication of details of the revised alternative certification model (ACM), developed by the National Qualifications 2021 Group.

Information about the revised model for delivering National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher results in 2021 was published on the SQA website, including a detailed breakdown of what will happen at each stage of the alternative certification model.

The latest information on SQA Qualifications can be found on the SQA website, including information relating to 2020-2021 courses.

4. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have requested.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

We are not aware of any commitments to ask SQA about the possibility of publishing exam answers. We are aware of an exchange between John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister and then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, and Liz Smith MSP in August 2020 regarding the return of exam scripts to candidates, and I have set out some further information in relation to this exchange below which I hope you find helpful.

You may wish to note that both publication of exam papers and the return of exam scripts fall within SQA’s operational responsibility as an NDPB.

As Mr Swinney responded in Parliament, in 2020 (the year which Liz Smith was querying) there were no exam scripts – that is the answers completed and submitted by a candidate at an examination – to return, as exams did not take place.

In a year where exams do take place, SQA’s long-standing position is that exam scripts are personal data and therefore covered by the Data Protection Act 1998. However, scripts are exempted from the right of access to personal data by section 7 of the Act and are also exempt under Freedom of Information legislation.

Nevertheless, SQA does understand the need for centres to understand how marks have/have not been awarded and responds to this need in a variety of ways.

SQA has a range of processes in place to inform centres on how candidates performed. These include a breakdown of marks which, combined with the centre’s own information on candidate performance over time, should enable centres to judge a candidate's skills and aptitude across different components. SQA’s published marking instructions add to the information that centres can use to judge where candidates have not performed as estimated. Candidates can submit a subject access request (SAR) for their personal data.

The data returned is the front and back of the script, meaning that the candidate receives the breakdown of marks for each question.

In addition, in pre pandemic years, some coursework was returned on request – usually submitted via centres – with the exception of materials subject to post result service (PRS) consideration which SQA retains for a year.

The Return of Projects (coursework) process was completed in 2019 and all National 5 coursework that was submitted pre-lockdown in 2020 was not returned to Centres, pre-empting the need for centres to submit requests for materials to be returned.

The 2019 material that had been held for 12 months due to PRS was returned if requested as part of the now completed 2020 Return of Projects process.

In case we have misinterpreted your question, I would also clarify that SQA publishes a range of information for each qualification and award, including; course specifications, past papers and detailed marking instructions, and course reports. Marking instructions identify where marks may be gained within a paper, providing workings where appropriate. Course reports support improved learning and teaching, identifying aspects of each end of year assessment where candidates generally performed well, and areas where performance could be improved.

Past papers and marking instructions can be sourced on the SQA website, at https://www.sqa.org.uk/pastpapers/findpastpaper.htm, or on the subject page of the relevant qualification.
Course reports, course specifications, course updates, and a range of other course specific information, can also be found on the subject pages.

You will appreciate that necessary changes to assessment in 2019-20 and 2020-21, where exams did not take place as a result of Covid-19 disruption, mean that information on papers could not be provided in the normal format.

While the Scottish Government holds no information regarding your questions, you may wish to note a number of related FOI releases that may be helpful. These can be found on the Scottish Government website at the links below.

The following responses fall within the date range of your enquiry and/or seek similar information but
have a wider scope and, where relevant, requested all meetings rather than just bilateral meetings: 

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

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