SQA results day 2021: how we got here

It’s been a frenetic year – with exams were cancelled and the SQA due to be replaced – so here’s a recap of events on the road to results day

Emma Seith

Teacher assessed grades, TAGs, results day 2021

This year’s Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) results are due out on Tuesday but it will be a results day like no other given that pupils already know their grades – and have done for weeks.

That has come about, of course, because national exams were cancelled this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and schools – although there is no shortage of people who will tell you that exams still took place – and teachers were responsible for grading, not the SQA. As a result marking and moderating were done and dusted before the summer holidays and grades shared with pupils.

Results day, however, will still be a day of revelations – not least because we will find out if the significant increases in the pass rate have been maintained this year.

So, ahead of Tuesday, let’s remind ourselves how we got to this point.

11 August 2020the 2020-21 school year begins in Scotland with pupils back in school buildings for the first time since March, when the coronavirus pandemic resulted in national school closures.

7 October 2020 the independent review of the 2020 exams debacle, led by the University of Stirling’s Professor Mark Priestley, is published. It recommends the cancellation of the 2021 National 5 exams and the government accepts the recommendation.

8 December 2020 the 2021 Higher and Advanced Higher exams are cancelled. The education secretary John Swinney says the decision has been taken, not so much because of safety fears around holding exams in the spring, but because of doubts over fairness.

Mr Swinney says that "we need a model that is more flexible to the specific circumstances of the individual pupil". 

19 December 2020 – first minister Nicola Sturgeon announces pupils will not return to school buildings following the Christmas break until at least Monday 18 January as a result of rising number of Covid-19 cases.

Ultimately, pupils do not begin to return to school until Monday 22 February and then only P1-3 and pre-school pupils.

15 March 2021 – all pupils are back in school some of the time, with all secondary pupils returning full-time after the Easter holidays.

26 March 2021Tes Scotland reports on a petition started by a Scottish school student, calling for an end to “exams in all but name” – although the exams have been cancelled, pupils say they are still having to sit “final assessments” despite the disruption to their education caused by Covid-19.

10 May 2021 Tes Scotland breaks the news that exam papers have been leaked online; SQA writes to schools saying "appropriate penalties should be applied" if cases of "candidate malpractice" are identified.

On the same day, it is announced that grades can be submitted by the extended deadline of 3 September for a “very small” number of pupils who have been “unduly disadvantaged by severe disruption to learning and teaching”.

19 May 2021 – Shirley-Anne Somerville becomes Scotland’s new education secretary, a day after John Swinney steps down following five years in the role.

28 May 2021 – a survey of 1,700 secondary teachers finds that only 20 per cent support the alternative assessment model replacing the exams.

2 June 2021 – the appeals process is finally revealed after much delay. Pupils get a direct right of appeal but are warned if they do appeal their grades could go up or down, which goes against the recommendations of children's rights campaigners.

21 June 2021 – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) review of the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is published and paves the way for qualifications reform after finding “misalignment between CfE’s aspirations and the qualification system”.

The same day, the Scottish government announces that the SQA  will be replaced and Education Scotland will no longer run inspections.

25 June 2021 – deadline for schools to submit pupils results to the SQA; schools were advised to keep their pupils abreast of the results they were on track for so pupils are told their grades before the summer holidays begin.

4 August 2021 – In her first extended interview since the Covid crisis began, SQA chief executive and chief examiner Fiona Robertson defends the body's performance during the pandemic and insists it has "absolutely learned" from the experience.

10 August 2021 SQA results day in Scotland.

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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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