Coronavirus: New statement on Scottish qualifications

Schools’ and colleges’ previous history of attainment will be a factor in the grades awarded to students this summer

Henry Hepburn

Coronavirus: The Scottish Qualifications Authority has issued a new statement on how qualifications will be awarded after the cancellation of exams this summer

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has issued a new statement this afternoon, intended to address uncertainty following the cancellation of this year's exams a month ago.

It says that "estimated grades will be the core element of certification",  which will not be "just the result of one prelim or one project but an overall judgement based on all activity across the year".

One factor taken into account will be "schools’ and colleges’ previous history of estimating and attainment in each subject and level".

The SQA also confirms that a free appeals service for schools has been put in place for "this exceptional year"


Background: The historic day when exams were cancelled

Assessment: 'Use school closures to reset exam system'

Coronavirus: What Scottish education did in the holidays

Mental health: Impact of coronavirus on young people to be assessed


The SQA update, which follows a previous statement on 2 April, outlines four steps towards results becoming available at the usual time of year on 4 August, despite the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus: How grades will be awarded

The four steps, as described by Fiona Robertson, SQA chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer, are:

Step 1: Estimates

"With no exams taking place this year and no feasible way for SQA to mark coursework, this means estimated grades will be the core element of certification.

"Today, I have issued information to schools and colleges on the estimation process. 

"Teachers and lecturers are best placed to have a strong understanding of how their learners have performed and, based on their experience and the evidence available, what a learner would be expected to achieve in each course. An estimated grade is not just the result of one prelim or one project, but is an overall judgement based on all activity across the year.

"By Friday 29 May, schools and colleges will provide us with their estimates of the grades, bands and rank order for each learner, for each course at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher."

Step 2: Awarding

"We will then check and validate that information. We will moderate it, if necessary, to ensure consistency across schools and colleges and with results from previous years.   

"We will use the information from these estimates, in addition to prior learner attainment, where this is available. For example, if learners achieved National 5 or Higher courses, in a previous year.

"We will also look at schools’ and colleges’ previous history of estimating and attainment in each subject and level. We may moderate these estimates, up or down, if that is required.   

"This process will produce the results for learners, using our national grades for each subject and level.

"Each year, we hold awarding meetings that bring together a range of people with subject expertise and people with experience of standard-setting across different subjects and qualification levels. We will maintain this approach this year, as far as possible."

Step 3: Results and Certification

"We will then process the results to allow us to issue learners with their individual results by 4 August. We continue to strongly encourage all learners to sign up to MySQA, our online and text service, as a direct way to receive their results."

Step 4: Appeals

"After 4 August, a free appeals service will be available to schools and colleges, to allow them to request a review of the grade awarded for a learner or a group of learners. It is important that such a service is in place in this exceptional year. 

"Assessment evidence must be available to support an appeal and the evidence will be reviewed by senior examiners, in line with the approach taken with our existing Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service. We will provide schools and colleges with full details of this service shortly."

Early reaction on Twitter included:

"Why have you not published the detail of how estimate grades are to be provided?"

"Follow the model down south and allow the kids to sit an exam in September if they want to appeal their made up results."

"Any chance of some clarity on what the actual plan is for HND students?"

Ms Robertson said the plan followed "three broad principles":

  • Fairness to all learners.

  • Safe and secure certification of qualifications, while following the latest public health advice.

  • Maintaining the integrity and credibility of the qualifications system, ensuring that standards are maintained over time, in the interests of learners.

Ms Robertson added: "Following the cancellation of the 2020 exam diet, I fully understand that this is an uncertain time for learners who have worked hard throughout the year and, with their parents and carers, are worried about what the current situation now means for them and their future.

"Together with Scotland’s education system, SQA remains committed to delivering results to learners, in as fair a way as possible, at this exceptionally difficult time. We want to ensure that young people across Scotland get the results they deserve, so they can progress to further learning or work.  

"At the request of the deputy first minister [and education secretary John Swinney], I have been asked to develop an alternative certification model for 2020."

She added: "Further information is available for learners, parents and carers in the Frequently Asked Questions section of our website.

"I would like to thank you for your ongoing support and patience during this time."

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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