Research examines 2023 approach to National Courses

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Almost 5,000 learners, teachers, lecturers and senior examiners have reflected on their experiences of National Courses in 2023 in research published today by SQA.

The research package of reports examines views and experiences of the approach to awarding used in the 2022-23 session, analyses the use of dual presentation at National 4 and National 5, the relationship between teacher estimates and results and the performance of National 5 Maths, where A-C performance in 2023 fell below pre-pandemic levels.

The research findings have helped SQA to make decisions about the approach to awarding in the 2023-24 session, announced earlier this month. Key findings from the research have also been shared with the wider education community to inform their decision making. The findings have also contributed to Scottish Government plans for reviewing the Maths curriculum, its education reform programme and its reminder to schools on the appropriate use of dual presentation.

Among the key findings:

Martyn Ware, Director of Policy, Analysis and Standards at SQA, said: “We are committed to hearing what our stakeholders, in particular teachers and learners, have to say about their experiences of our qualifications and assessments. This research, following the evaluations published in 2022 and 2023, is vital to ensure that we continue to deliver for Scotland’s learners, the economy and wider society by bringing practitioners and learners into the heart of our decision making.

“We are immensely grateful to the learners, teachers, lecturers and senior examiners who gave their time to share their experiences. It is particularly encouraging to see the 67% increase in the number of learners engaging with us, compared to last year, including those with disabilities, with additional support needs, with a range of equalities characteristics and from different SIMD quintiles.

“The research findings have helped to build a picture of the experiences of learners, teachers, lecturers and senior examiners from across Scotland in 2023 as we continued to work through the long-term impact of the COVID pandemic on our education system. They reflect the diverse and often differing experiences and views of our education community.

“It is important that we share the findings of this extensive research with the wider education community and explore with them the implications for our future approaches. The research will add to the other sources of insight into how the 2022-23 session performed, such as national attainment data, published last August.

“Understanding the benefits and challenges of different arrangements is invaluable and creates a record and evidence-base to support continued dialogue and decision-making as Scotland continues to consider the scale and scope of education reform.”

Ten reports have been published today, including an overall and a learner summary of the research findings.

In addition, SQA has published its annual reports into malpractice. In the 2022-23 session, there were 145 cases of candidate malpractice in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, up from 76 in the 2021-22 session. This represents 0.027% of the 540,950 entries for these courses.

Any kind of malpractice is totally unacceptable. SQA has a duty, in the interests of fairness and equity for all candidates, and to maintain the integrity and standards of the qualifications, to investigate where concerns of malpractice are raised.

SQA will continue to work with schools and colleges, the teaching profession, and its markers and invigilators, to ensure that its approaches to malpractice are applied.

SQA has also published centre malpractice information for 2023. This covers SQA activity across all qualification and centre types. Through the year, a total of 212 concerns were logged, of which 56 were investigated to a conclusion. Of these 42 led to a finding of malpractice, down from 45 in 2022. These relate to fewer than 3% of the centres registered to deliver SQA qualifications by the end of 2023.

The research and the malpractice reports are available on our website.