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SQA News 2 May 2024

English - Change to assessment conditions in portfolios from session 2024-25

Yesterday, we issued the following message to schools and colleges from Robert Quinn, Head of English, Languages and Business.

We’re tightening the conditions of assessment in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher English writing portfolios for session 2024-25 onwards, to further support teachers and lecturers with authenticating learners’ work and to ensure the reliability of the assessment.

There will be a new mandatory requirement for learners to complete their first draft during class time, under the supervision of their teacher or lecturer.

What’s changing

There will be a new mandatory requirement for learners to complete their first draft during class time, under the supervision of their teacher or lecturer. This will enable teachers and lecturers to review learners’ first drafts before learners continue to work on them independently. Learners will complete their final piece under some supervision and control, as is currently the case.

We aren’t making any other changes to the writing portfolios. The assessment standards will remain the same.

Why we’re making this change

We’ve been receiving ongoing feedback from the English teaching profession that, under the current portfolio assessment conditions, it can be difficult to verify learners’ work as their own. It’s possible that some learners may have had input from others when working on their draft outside of school or college hours.

More recently, we’ve been receiving feedback that it’s becoming more challenging to ensure that plagiarism hasn’t taken place in the portfolios, due to the rapid development of generative artificial intelligence (AI) platforms such as Chat GPT and Google Bard.

As a result, we recognise that further support is needed for the English portfolios. This is because the broad assessment conditions, which allow learners to produce their draft outside of classroom hours, have the potential to enable outside input or the use of AI to go undetected.

In addition, earlier this session, SQA published its position on the use of generative AI in assessments, which is available on our Generative artificial intelligence (AI) in assessments web page. This position clearly states that learners are not allowed to submit AI outputs as their own work. Learners are also provided with information on plagiarism through our Your National Qualifications guide.

We published our guide Authenticating learners’ work – good practice advice for centres to support teachers and lecturers with ensuring learners’ work is their own. In addition, our National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher English course specifications advise steps that teachers and lecturers can take to authenticate learners’ writing portfolios, such as putting regular checkpoints in place and having progress meetings with learners.

How this change will support teachers and lecturers

Introducing a mandatory requirement for learners to complete their first draft during class time will allow teachers and lecturers to observe how learners’ work is developing without any outside influences. This will help to identify if there are any unusual changes in the quality and content of a learner’s writing portfolio at the final submission stage, or if the final piece is unrecognisable from the first draft, which may indicate that it’s not the learner’s own work.

This will also protect the validity of the writing portfolio, which is an important feature of National 5 to Advanced Higher English course assessments. The writing portfolio allows learners to show their writing skills outside of a test or exam environment by following a writing process that takes them from initial ideas to a final draft.

Engaging with the profession

Our English qualifications team has been meeting with representatives of higher education institutions in Scotland, and internationally. They discussed the impact of emerging generative AI technology on writing assessments and compared approaches to addressing this. Across the institutions the team spoke to, their current approaches involve emphasising the writing process that students need to follow and tightening the assessment conditions. We also consulted with some schools and members of our National Qualifications Support Team (NQST) for English, and with colleagues in the EIS and NASUWT.

Some of the schools we spoke to have already proactively taken steps to supervise learners’ first drafts, which has had a positive impact on their ability to authenticate learners’ work. Introducing this change for all schools and colleges will ensure a fair and consistent approach across the country.

Next steps

We’re updating the National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher course specifications and portfolio-writing coursework assessment tasks. The updated documents will reflect the tightened conditions of assessment and provide a clear process that learners need to follow when producing their portfolio.

The updated documents will be available in early June.

We’ll keep the tightened assessment conditions under review as part of our ongoing maintenance of National Courses.

Together with our partners in the education community, we’re also continuing to monitor and explore developments in AI technology and keep our position under review.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the above information, please email