National Qualifications experience 2020 - rapid review: our response

Our response to the recommendations in the rapid review of National Qualifications experience report 2020.

Professor Mark Priestley was commissioned to conduct a review of events following the cancellation of the examination diet in 2020.

This document sets out the Scottish Government’s response to each of the nine recommendations contained within Professor Priestley’s report ‘Rapid Review of National Qualifications Experience 2020’, published on 7 October 2020.



SG Response

1. Suspension of the 2021 National 5 exam diet, with qualifications awarded on the basis of centre estimation based upon validated assessments.


Due to the level of disruption already caused and the level of disruption likely to be faced by some or all pupils and students this academic year, the risks of holding a full diet in 2021 are too great.

In view of the recommendation, and having consulted widely, including through the Education Recovery Group and with learners, teachers and parents, the Deputy First Minister has decided to cancel National 5 examinations in 2021. 

On this basis, the Deputy First Minister and has asked Scotland’s Chief Examining Officer to develop an alternative approach to awarding National 5 qualifications that is based on exam centre estimates, based on teacher/lecturer judgements and supported by assessment resources and quality assurance at national and local level.

Higher and Advanced Higher examinations in 2021 will go ahead. They will start on 13 May 2021, slightly later than is normal, therefore, allowing some additional learning time this academic year to make up for some of that lost at the end of 2019-20.  Modifications to course assessment will also be made by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) following its consultation in order to maximise learning and teaching time.   A clear contingency plan is being developed for Higher and Advanced Higher exams. This will include key check points up to the February break to assess public health advice and, if needed, Higher and Advanced Higher courses will be awarded based on teacher professional judgement, taking account of normal assessment evidence, and subject to quality assurance to ensure standards are maintained.

2. The development of a nationally recognised, fully transparent and proportionate system for moderation of centre-based assessment.


The Scottish Government recognises the key role of the SQA in maintaining the standards of qualifications and that external validation and quality assurance of teacher and lecture evidence is important in ensuring that results are as robust and fair as possible.  

The Deputy First Minister has asked the Chief Examining officer to  ensure that the alternative approach for the awarding of National 5 qualifications is based on teacher judgement supported by validated assessments.  This approach is to include the provision of:

  • clear guidance for teachers, lecturers and exams centres on evidence gathering and estimation, with a clear focus on quality rather than quantity of that evidence;
  • where possible, National 5 subject specific guidance that, includes 2-4 key pieces of work that will inform their final grade;
  • a support plan developed by the SQA, with Education Scotland, local authorities, regional improvement collaboratives and others to support a local and national approach to moderation and quality assurance, including the provision of assessment resources.

Alongside this, to ensure standards are maintained, SQA will work alongside exam centres during the year on the quality assurance of learners’ work.  This engagement will take place with all exam centres, with the SQA looking at a sample of work within each school and college and providing specific feedback to ensure standards are maintained.

3. The development of more extensive approaches to collaborative decision making and co-construction by professional stakeholders of assessment practices related to National Qualifications.


A system-wide, collaborative approach is imperative to the development and delivery of the assessment and moderation approach for 2021. The Curriculum and Assessment Board will also have an important role to play.  The Scottish Government has agreed with the OECD to extend the remit of the Curriculum for Excellence review currently underway in order that it can look more explicitly at assessment and qualifications issues, including assessment practices, drawing on best practice globally. This work will include discussions with stakeholders.

4. A commitment to embedding equalities in all aspects of the development of qualifications systems.


SQA has a commitment and statutory duty to fulfil its obligations under the Equality Act 2010.  SQA’s own policies including its Equality of Access to SQA Qualifications Policy outline the organisation’s commitment to promoting and facilitating access to its qualifications.

The Scottish Government and the SQA will work closely with the Children and Young People’s Commissioner and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to further embed best practice in order to best realise principles of equity and equality.

5. The development of more systematic processes for working with and engaging young people, as stakeholders and rights holders in education.


The Scottish Government recognises the critical place young people have as stakeholders and rights holders in education.  

A range of work is underway by the Scottish Government to further strengthen the voice of learners in Scotland education policy in 2020/21: learners are being consulted as part of the OECD Review; the Scottish Learner Panel is being extended to run to June 2021, to ensure a broad panel of learners from schools across Scotland can work to influence the discussion by the Education Recovery Group and other key forums; support continues to be provided to Young Ambassadors for Inclusion to ensure that young people with additional support needs can help to inform and comment on policy; and 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.   

6.  The development of a clear communications strategy, co-constructed with stakeholders, to ensure that the extraordinary arrangements for 2021 are as fully as possible understood by all parties.



The Scottish Government is committed to making the arrangements for the assessment of national qualifications in 2020-21 as clear as possible for all stakeholders.  The Scottish Government will work with the SQA to communicate this effectively to the public and the education system. This approach will look to provide as much certainty as possible, but will also be responsive to changing circumstances. 

7. A review of qualification appeals systems, including consideration of the rights and roles of young people, in the context of the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scottish law.



The Scottish Government fully recognises that young people are rights holders and key stakeholders with the education system.  We will ask the SQA to review the appeals system for National Qualifications, working closely with education partners, including young people, to ensure it best meets the needs of young people in line with the principles of the UNCRC.

8. The commissioning of  independent research into the development and application of the 2020 ACM, involving full access to anonymised attainment data and the statistical algorithms used  to moderate grades.


Consider as a future project as part of our research strategy in education

The Scottish Government notes this recommendation but does not consider this to be a priority for our improvement activity at this stage given that there is no intention to have a similar model in support of awarding in 2020-21. The recommendation will be considered by the team in Scottish Government that assesses a range of potential projects for inclusion in our research in education strategy. This will be done in consultation with SQA. 

9. The development by SQA and partners of digital materials and systems for producing, assessing and moderating assessment evidence, to ensure that operational processes for gathering candidate evidence for appeals is less reliant on paper-based systems.


SQA will continue its work, funded by the Scottish Government, on developing digitising assessment evidence in close consultation with centres. Progress has already been made in this area in the form of digital marking.


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