Inspectors examine council plans for grading students

The review will involve councils and ‘a selection of secondary schools’ and is expected to report mid-May

Emma Seith

SQA exam cancellations: Inspectors are to examine council plans for grading students in Scotland

Education secretary John Swinney is sending school inspectors into Scotland’s 32 councils to “ensure that the approach to certification this year delivers for young people across Scotland”.

The move follows anger among teachers, students and parents that, while this year's Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams were cancelled back in December, senior students have returned following the latest Covid lockdown to a series of assessments that very much look like a traditional exam diet.

However, Tes Scotland has been told by some senior figures in Scottish education that the review is political and, rather than being about real change, is actually about Mr Swinney “covering his back” and being able to show that he took action if this year’s exam replacement model results in another fiasco.


Background: Scotland's 2021 exams cancelled by education secretary

Opinion: Why teachers' worst fears over exams have come true

School leader’s take: ‘Saying there’s no need for exams lets down schools’

Results 2020: SQA results fiasco 'could have been partially avoided'

News: How many Education Scotland staff experience bullying?


An Education Scotland spokesperson told Tes Scotland that the inspectorate had been asked by Mr Swinney “to carry out a review of local authority approaches to quality assurance activity as part of the alternative certification model”.

Covid exam cancellations: Inspectors to check on quality assurance of teacher assessment

She continued: “The national review is intended to further support the range of measures being undertaken to ensure that the approach to certification this year delivers for young people across Scotland...inspectors will learn what is working well and share this widely to celebrate success and support consistency in the quality and effectiveness of quality assurance approaches.

“The review will be carried out across all 32 local authorities and will look at local authority arrangements set out in the alternative certification model roles and responsibilities. Each local authority will propose a selection of secondary schools.

“[Education Scotland] will publish a national overview report of their findings mid-May 2021.”

After SQA exams were cancelled in 2020, an algorithm that used a school’s past attainment data to moderate teacher judgements was blamed for students – particularly in disadvantaged areas – receiving results that bore no resemblance to their performance or previous attainment.

Ultimately, the Scottish government was forced to revert to teacher-estimated grades except where moderation had resulted in a student receiving a higher grade than anticipated.

This year Mr Swinney promised “no algorithm will be used” when he announced the Highers and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled in December. The National 5 exams had already been cancelled in October following the independent review of the 2020 results fiasco.

Mr Swinney also said: “Exams cannot account for differential loss of learning and could lead to unfair results for our poorest pupils. This could lead to pupils’ futures being blighted through no fault of their own."

However, this year teachers have to back up their “provisional results” with evidence, which is why students are having to prove themselves in “exams by another name”.  

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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