Research examines 2021 alternative assessment approach

Wednesday 21 September 2022

More than 3,000 learners, teachers and lecturers have reflected on their experiences of National Qualifications during the COVID-19 pandemic in research published today (Wednesday 21 September) by SQA.

The reports examine views and experiences of the substantially different approach to assessment that was required in 2021 following the Scottish Government’s cancellation of exams. The Alternative Certification Model (ACM) was designed by the National Qualifications Group* at a time of unprecedented challenge for the education community.

The research will contribute to the national discussion on the future of education and to the work of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment.

Among the findings:

The early findings of the evaluation helped to inform the approach to assessment and communication in academic year 2021-22. The work is now also informing plans for the coming year, including the early confirmation, in April, that modifications to assessment will continue in the current academic year, freeing up more time for learning and teaching to support continued recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

Martyn Ware, Head of Policy, Research and Standards at SQA, said: “The Covid pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for learners, teachers, lecturers and the wider education community, here in Scotland, in the rest of the UK and internationally. As Scotland’s national awarding body, it was essential for us to evaluate the Alternative Certification Model that was put in place in 2021, and to hear the lived experience of those who used it.

“The reports have helped to build a picture of the experiences of learners, teachers and lecturers from across Scotland in 2021. They reflect the diverse and often differing experiences and views of our education community, for example, while some felt positively towards the ACM, others reported feeling more stress or having a higher workload than in a normal exam year.

“The findings reflect the importance of the ongoing review of qualifications and assessment in Scotland as we look to the future as well as highlighting the potential challenges of reaching a consensus on what changes may be appropriate.

“We are immensely grateful to the learners, teachers and lecturers who gave their time to share their experiences to help inform the content of the evaluation.”

Eight reports have been published today, as well as an overall summary of the findings. The research includes four independent reports by academics at the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford on perceptions of assessment standards among teachers and lecturers, learners, parents and carers, employers and society more generally – the first empirical work on stakeholders’ views of the meaning of assessment standards in Scotland.

Professor Jo-Anne Baird at the University of Oxford and one of the co-authors of the research, said: “Public confidence in national qualifications is incredibly important for learners. 

“Our findings show that people want a qualification system that fits modern Scottish society - one that is learner-focused, with choice, flexibility, and the capacity to adapt to the needs of learners with different skills and in a range of contexts.”

The research has been published on SQA’s website to support discussion around the future of assessment in Scotland.

*The National Qualifications 2021 Group included the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), Colleges Scotland, Education Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), School Leaders Scotland (SLS), the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the Scottish Government, National Parent Forum of Scotland, and the Scottish Youth Parliament.

The evaluation of the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) 2021 includes the following: