Qualifications 2020 - your questions answered

Guidance and information to support you through the impact of coronavirus

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NQ Learners

If you are studying National 2 to National 5, Highers, Advanced Highers, Scottish Baccalaureate, National Certificates, National Progression Awards, Skills for Work and Awards.

College learners

If you are studying HND, HNC, National Certificates, National Progression Awards or NQ freestanding units.

NQ School and college practitioners

If you are delivering National 2 to National 5, Higher, Advanced Higher, National Certificates, National Progression Awards, Skills for Work courses and Awards.

NQ Quality Assurance

For National 3 & National 4 courses, Scottish Baccalaureate Interdisciplinary project, Skills for Work, Awards and free-standing units.

NQ Estimates

If you're teaching National 5, Higher or Advanced Higher courses - help with preparing estimates.

College staff

If you are delivering HNC, HND, National Certificates, National Progression Awards or NQ freestanding units.


NQ Learners

Which qualifications are covered by the guidance in this section?

The guidance in this section is currently relevant to the following SQA qualifications:

  • National 2 to National 5 courses
  • Highers
  • Advanced Highers
  • Scottish Baccalaureate Interdisciplinary Project unit
  • National Certificates (NC)
  • National Progression Awards (NPA)
  • Skills for Work courses
  • Awards

Why did SQA take the decision to cancel the exams?

Following the latest medical and scientific advice, The Scottish Government decided to cancel the exam diet due to social distancing and to keep everyone safe.

What about pushing the exam timetable back to later in the year?

We did think about this however, as we don't know when your school or college will reopen, the Deputy First Minister asked SQA to look at another way to produce your results.

How will National Courses be certificated this year?

Experienced teachers and lecturers will review all the evidence that is available to them to assess whether you have met the course aims. They have a strong understanding of your performance and know how you compare to other learners in each department, and in previous years.

Your teachers and/or lecturers will take account of any available work that you have completed throughout the course. Using their teaching experience, and their knowledge of your work and your progress so far, they will make an estimate of the grade you would have achieved under normal circumstances.

Estimate grades will be based on how well you have demonstrated the required skills, knowledge and understanding for each course at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher. We will then have the information we need to adjust estimates where necessary, and to ensure consistency — both across the country and in comparison, with previous years.

On Monday 20 April, we sent detailed guidance to your school or college on how to determine and submit this estimate information to us.

When and how should schools and colleges supply estimate grades to SQA?

On Monday 20 April, we sent detailed guidance to your school or college on how to determine and submit this estimate information to us.

We expect your teachers or lecturers to discuss your estimated grade with another teacher and senior member of staff before sending it to us by Friday 29 May.

Do I need to do any further work?

No. SQA does not need schools and colleges to set any more prelims or mock exams, or homework tasks to estimate your grade.

It’s also important to remember that it is not necessary for teachers and lecturers to mark any other work that would have been externally marked by SQA.

What does this mean for National 2 to National 4 courses and the Scottish Baccalaureate Interdisciplinary Project?

National 2, National 3 and National 4 qualifications are made up of units (including an Added Value Unit at National 4) which are internally assessed as pass or fail by the school or college, and externally quality assured by SQA.

Schools and colleges will continue to send us your unit results based on either existing evidence from assessments that have already been completed, and/or by using their teaching experience of your work from through the year. The same arrangement applies to the Scottish Baccalaureate Interdisciplinary Project unit.

What about other internally assessed qualifications, such as National Certificates, National Progression Awards and Skills for Work courses?

For National Certificates, National Progression Awards, Skills for Work courses, and other Awards, we are asking schools, colleges, employers and training providers to provide us with the results of their internal assessment decisions (where some evidence from the course already exists but further progress is not possible) using their teaching experience of your work through the year.

Why aren’t you marking my coursework?

Coursework for Higher and Advanced Higher courses are submitted later in the year, so as a result of the current public health advice on social distancing, you may not be able to complete it and we would not be able to receive it and mark it.

We looked at the possibilities of marking National 5 coursework that we had already received, however it became clear that we could not go ahead with marking it in a way that was safe and secure for the hundreds of markers who work with us over the course of the exam diet, or in a way that ensures all results are viewed with the same importance as those from previous and future years.

We know this will be disappointing news. But we have taken this difficult decision to be as fair as possible to all learners, whilst responding to and following the latest public health guidance.

When will we receive our results?

Results day will be on Tuesday 4 August as originally planned for National Courses and awards, National Certificates, National Progression Awards and Skills for Work courses.

We strongly recommend that you sign-up to MySQA to receive your results by text and/or email. If you have already received your results through MySQA previously, you will continue to do so, and we recommend that you review check your profile to make sure your contact details are correct up to date.

A free appeals service will be available for your school or college to use if you disagree with your result.

Will I be able to progress to the next stage of my education or employment with the grades I receive this year?

Yes. SQA is in regular discussion with UCAS (the University and College Admission Service), Colleges Scotland, and Universities Scotland, who are fully aware of the situation and will help you to progress on to the next stage of your education or employment.

We are also in close discussion with Skills Development Scotland, to ensure employers and their representatives are kept aware of the decisions being made.

Will schools and colleges still be able to question results, and use SQA’s Post-results Services?

Everyone at SQA is doing everything possible to ensure your hard work is rightly and fairly recognised.

A free appeals service will be available for your school or college to use if you disagree with your result.

Can I sit my exams next year and use whatever result is better?

Yes, as in any year, you can sit the exams next year if you wish. All results will be listed on your SQA record of attainment.

I have been studying for a National Course at home/with a private tutor. I am registered with a school/college to complete the assessment, but the school/college has no prior knowledge of my performance or evidence on which to base an estimate. What arrangements are there for me?

As an approved centre, the school or college has a responsibility to gather the appropriate evidence that will enable them to submit a refined estimate for you. It is for the school or college to decide what evidence they are prepared to accept and review, such as work you have completed throughout the year at home or with your private tutor. The school or college needs to be happy to authenticate this evidence and use it as a basis for your estimate. They may wish to discuss this further with you.

If the school or college is unable to authenticate this evidence – or they have no evidence upon which to base an estimate for you – they will be unable to submit an estimate grade. If this is the case, they will have no option but to withdraw you from the course.

If the school or college chooses not to proceed, you will need to be entered for the course by another SQA-approved centre, and that centre will also be required to submit an estimate grade to us. Your local authority may be able to advise you of any centres in your area that will accept new entries for external candidates.

College learners

Why do I need to still undertake assessments?

As you know, face-to-face learning and teaching at colleges has stopped but arrangements have been made in many areas for learning to continue remotely — to enable you to complete your course successfully, despite the very challenging conditions we are all experiencing currently.

By continuing to engage in assessment opportunities, you will ensure that there is comprehensive assessment evidence available for your lecturers to refer to when they decide on a result for you.

How will my course result be determined?

Experienced lecturers will review all the available assessment evidence to assess whether you have met the course aims. Using this evidence, and their knowledge of your engagement and progress, your lecturer will determine your result based on your performance to-date.

I have additional support needs. What does all of this mean for me?

College staff will take the necessary adjustments to make the assessment accessible for you. This will be done in partnership with college student support services. This could include, for example, the use of professional discussion instead of a written exercise if you normally require a scribe.

Shouldn’t all students just pass the course? It isn’t our fault we can’t continue as normal.

It is vital that any award made is supported by a rigorous and fair assessment process. Colleges are working to support you and to ensure that your hard work and achievements are rewarded.

I don’t have computer access to my college. How will my assessment decision be determined? / I have caring responsibilities and haven’t been able to engage with ongoing opportunities for assessment.

We know that for some students there are particular barriers to continuing with learning, teaching, and assessments.

If there is already a significant amount of evidence in place for you, it may be possible for your lecturers to use this to predict your grade.

However, there may simply be insufficient evidence to allow lecturers to make that decision. If this is the case, your entry can be left open and you should be given the opportunity to engage in further learning, teaching and assessment when conditions allow.

Colleges are working to make sure that there is no detriment to learner funding entitlements in these situations.

I have a conditional offer from university and my Graded Units will be impossible to complete. What does this mean for me?

Where it has not been possible to complete the Graded Unit (for example, you have no access to necessary resources or equipment due to the lock-down), college staff will use any Graded Unit work completed to date, plus a range of other assessment evidence, to predict and award a grade where it is possible to do so. This will depend on the quality and amount of evidence available.

What if I don’t get the grade I expected?

If you feel that the assessment outcome reached does not accurately reflect your achievement, you will be able to submit an appeal following your college’s academic appeals process.

I haven’t been able to fully achieve my course because my assessment evidence was insufficient. How and when will I be able to complete any units that I did not get awarded?

Where you have not achieved your award and this is considered a direct result of the impact of college closure, your entry can be left open and you should be given the opportunity to engage in further learning, teaching, and assessment when conditions allow.

Colleges are working to make sure that there is no detriment to learner funding entitlements in these situations.

Can I progress onto other course within my college with an incomplete result?

This will depend on your individual progress. Staff would discuss with you the available options.

Will universities recognise my grades?

Yes. Your result and grade will result from a rigorous evidence-based assessment process.

This will be a valid result that reflects your achievement throughout your course.

What arrangements are being put in place if my course is mainly practical, such as hairdressing, dental nursing, social care, or construction management?

SQA has provided subject-specific guidance directly to colleges, on how to proceed with assessment for practical subjects, which given the current public health advice, would put both you and others at risk. Your college will be in touch with you to explain these arrangements. If you have any questions, please speak to your lecturer.

How will I complete the Graded Unit for my HNC Social Services/Childhood Practice?

We understand your concerns around the time left for you to complete the Graded Unit. We have therefore worked with the other agencies involved and have updated our guidance, to provide your centre with further options to allow your course to be assessed. This guidance has now been sent to your centre, who will update you on the situation. Please speak to your lecturer or instructor if you have any questions.

NQ School and college practitioners

What is happening to this year’s examination diet?

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 national examination timetable has been cancelled.

The Scottish Government has asked SQA to develop an alternative certification model. This will ensure that learners’ hard work is rightly and fairly recognised.

For this session, teachers and lecturers should continue to exercise their professional judgement and estimate a learner’s grade and band based on their demonstrated and inferred attainment of the required skills, knowledge and understanding for each National Course.

SQA will work to ensure learners receive their results no later than Tuesday 4 August. A free appeals service will be available to ensure that schools and colleges continue to have a mechanism to question any result, and guidance will be provided.

We also recommend that schools and colleges encourage their learners to sign up to MySQA to receive their NQ results by text and/or email. Any learner who has previously signed up to receive their results through MySQA will continue to do so, and we recommend that those learners review their profile to make sure their contact details are correct.

Do learners still need to undertake their practical assessments and/or coursework?

Higher and Advanced Higher

No. SQA has confirmed that schools and colleges are not required to submit learner coursework for marking for Higher and Advanced Higher courses.

Also, we do not require schools and colleges to submit marks for internally assessed coursework.

National 5

We confirmed earlier that National 5 coursework already submitted by schools and colleges will not be marked. We also do not require schools and colleges to submit marks for any internally assessed coursework.

National 2 – National 4

Schools and colleges should provide unit results, based on either existing evidence from assessments that have already been completed, and/or using their professional judgement of other learner evidence, including knowledge of their learners’ progress and achievements to date. The results should be submitted to SQA, in the normal way, by Friday 22 May for schools, and by Monday 1 June for colleges.

National Certificates, National Progression Awards, Skills for Work courses and Awards

We are asking schools, colleges, employers and training providers to provide us with the results of their internal assessment decisions (where some evidence from the course already exists but further progress is not possible), based on teaching staff’s professional judgement of learners’ work from throughout the year.

What guidance is there to help teachers and lecturers with establishing learners’ estimate grades?

For this session, teachers and lecturers should continue to exercise their professional judgement and estimate a learner’s grade and band based on their demonstrated and inferred attainment of the required skills, knowledge and understanding for each National Course. There is no requirement for schools and colleges to set any more prelims or mock exams, or homework tasks for the purpose of determining an estimate grade.

It is also important to remember that it is not necessary for teachers and lecturers to mark any other work that would have been externally marked by SQA. An estimate is a judgement of a grade and band based on a holistic review of a learner’s performance in the assessment evidence available.

The integrity of the estimates we receive this year is very important as it will provide the core element of the certification process, in the absence of national performance data such as marked question papers, and non-question paper components.

Therefore, to assist SQA in the awarding and certification process for 2020, we are taking steps to refine the existing system and ensure it is as fair and robust as possible. Firstly, we will be subdividing each existing band and asking teachers and lecturers to place their learners within these band categories. Secondly, we will be asking teachers and lecturers to rank order their learners within each estimated grade. 

This will provide us with the information needed to allow us to adjust estimates where necessary, to ensure consistency both across the country and in comparison, with previous years. 

This process may be informed by previous subject and qualification performance at both a national and centre level and prior attainment information where that is available. 

Detailed guidance to schools and colleges on how to determine and submit refined estimate information is now available:

Information on Providing Estimates (177 KB)

We understand that teachers and lecturers will need more time to access evidence and have departmental and faculty discussions, in order to provide this information. We are also conscious that this will be more challenging with school and college closures.

We are extending the existing estimates deadline by a month from Friday 24 April to Friday 29 May.

Will SQA continue to offer its Post-Results Services to schools and colleges?

A free appeals service will be available to ensure that schools and colleges continue to have a mechanism to question any result, and guidance will be provided.

Does SQA have enough Markers in place to support this year’s activities?

With the decision to cancel the 2020 exam timetable, and no coursework being marked for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, there is no need for the normal marking activities, this year.

We thank all those who were due to mark, for their willingness to do so, and for all the work they do for us.

We are currently planning for alternative assessment, certification and post result activities, and we may still need Markers’ help and their expertise to support these activities. We hope that our Markers will be able to continue to support us, and we will be in touch with them, if their assistance in an alternative role is required.

Are all external assessment, and external verifications visits related to the NQ 2020 examination diet, cancelled?

Yes. All external assessment visits, and external verification visits related to this year’s examination diet, have been cancelled. While no further visiting assessment will take place this session, we know that some visiting assessors have already sent us marks from activities that were completed. We can confirm that these marks will not be used in determining learners’ final grades. We have taken this decision to be as fair as possible to all learners, as we do not have a complete set of data for all learners across all subjects that are marked by visiting assessors.

What is the deadline for schools and colleges to submit estimate grades? Is it possible to get an extension to the deadline to the end of the cancelled examination diet?

Yes. We are extending the existing estimates deadline by a month from Friday 24 April to Friday 29 May.

When will we receive further updates or more detailed information from SQA?

We have provided detailed guidance to schools and colleges on how to determine and submit refined estimate information.

Information on Providing Estimates (177 KB)

We will also provide fuller details of our approach to certification, as soon as possible.

A free appeals service will be available to ensure that schools and colleges continue to have a mechanism to question any result, and guidance will be provided.

Are schools and colleges required to send in copies of Internal Assessment Marking Forms?

No – schools and colleges should not send us Internal Assessment Mark Forms (IAMF). The marks and the coursework evidence are no longer required, given the information in our statement on coursework, published on 24 March.

Should schools and colleges still be asking learners to complete coursework, or other assessments, even though SQA no longer needs it?

No. There is no requirement for learners to complete coursework or other assessments. Schools and colleges are not required to set any more prelims or mock exams, or homework tasks for the purpose of determining an estimate grade.

Schools and colleges are best placed to make decisions about the completion of coursework, given their knowledge and understanding of the status of their learners’ coursework and the circumstances in which it can be completed, within current public health advice guidelines.

How will SQA ensure that learners get the grades they deserve

It is vital that we base our decisions on the principles of fairness to all learners, and the safe and secure certification of our qualifications, whilst recognising the current challenges we all face.

Are there any subjects where the grade is based solely on the exam?

Mathematics and Latin do not have coursework, but we use other information during the awarding process to determine grades, including teacher estimates and prior attainment.

Are you going to charge late fees for changes to entries?

No. To help support you through this exceptionally difficult time, we can confirm that we will not be charging late fees, for any changes you make to entry levels or withdrawal of entries for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, after 31 March. While any new entries that you make will incur the usual entry fee, we will not charge you a late fee as well. In line with our normal data management processes, SQA will continue to monitor the data submitted by centres until certification. However, it is essential that you provide complete and accurate data by the timelines set by SQA to ensure that learners are awarded the achievements they deserve and that they are able to take their next steps into further or higher education, employment or apprenticeships.

Will these qualifications be recognised by universities and employers?

Yes. SQA is in regular discussion with UCAS, Colleges Scotland, and Universities Scotland, who are fully aware of the situation and will help learners to progress on to the next stage of their education or employment. We are also in close discussion with Skills Development Scotland, to ensure employers and their representatives are kept aware of the decisions being made.

Can learners sit their exams next year and use whatever result is better?

Yes, as in any year, learners can sit the exams next year if they wish. All results will be listed on their SQA record of attainment.

If this is all possible then why do we need an exam system from now on?

This is an unprecedented situation, and the closure of schools and colleges for an extended period means that it will not be possible for learners to sit exams.

What about pushing the timetable back in the year?

This was considered as an alternative but with no clear timeline for when schools and colleges would be reopened, the Deputy First Minister asked SQA to develop an alternative certification model.

Who took the decision to cancel this year’s diet and what was the decision-making process?

As outlined in our statement, on 19 March 2020, the Deputy First Minister asked Scotland’s Chief Examining Officer to develop an alternative certification model following the cancellation of this year’s timetable.

How should I result learners for internally assessed qualifications?

For internally assessed qualifications, you are required to determine a result for each unit. Where further progress is not possible, you should base your assessment decisions on available evidence from unit assessments that learners have already completed, or your professional judgement of other available evidence (such as class tests), or a combination of both. You must then submit these results to SQA in the normal way. Following feedback from centres, we have extended the deadline for unit results to Friday 12 June.

Please note that our process and guidance for producing estimates in session 2019-20 is for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses, which are externally assessed by SQA. It does not apply to these internally assessed qualifications.

Can a learner be resulted with a pass in a unit if they have met some, but not all, of the outcomes and assessment standards?

Yes, this may be possible. Where further progress is not possible, you should make a holistic professional judgement on whether the learner would have passed the unit.  

Where full evidence to satisfy the unit has not yet been generated, you must consider, and document, alternative learner evidence. When making assessment decisions
based on alternative evidence, you must consider a range of learner evidence with strong predictive value, such as class tests. This will give you an indication of the learner’s knowledge and skills.

If the unit is part of an internally assessed course, such as National 2 to National 4 and Skills for Work courses, and the learner has completed other units within the course, there may be transferable evidence from those units that you could use when making a holistic assessment decision.

Can a learner be resulted with a pass in a unit if they have not met any of the outcomes and assessment standards?

If the unit is part of an internally assessed course, further progress is not possible, and the learner has completed other units within the course, there may be transferable evidence from those units that you could use when making your assessment decisions.

Where full evidence to satisfy the unit has not yet been generated, you must consider, and document, alternative learner evidence. When making assessment decisions
based on alternative evidence, you must consider a range of learner evidence with strong predictive value, such as class tests. This will give you an indication of the learner’s knowledge and skills.

If a learner has passed one or more units in an internally assessed course, such as National 2 to National 4 and Skills for Work courses, but has not started the remaining units, can I also pass them for those remaining units?

Where full evidence to satisfy the aims of an internally assessed course has not yet been generated, and further progress is not possible, you must consider, and document, alternative learner evidence. You should consider whether the evidence from other units is transferrable to any of the remaining units. If it is, you could use it to make a holistic judgement on whether the learner has met the overall course aims. If there is enough evidence that the learner can be deemed to have met the course aims, then you can result them as having passed all units within the course.

What about freestanding units? Can evidence be transferred from one freestanding unit to another?

Yes, it is possible to result of freestanding units if the overall requirements of the unit are broadly met.

For freestanding units at all levels, you must consider the evidence that you have against the unit outcomes for each unit. This can include alternative evidence, such as class tests, where formal unit assessments have not been undertaken. This could also include evidence of transferable skills which are common across the units (such as problem-solving).

What do I do if I a learner has been withdrawn for National 5 and has now been entered for National 4?

You should review the learner’s performance/class work over their National 5 course to date, reflecting on the National 4 assessment standards. You should do this holistically for each individual candidate. You should ensure robust arrangements for agreeing the learner’s overall result, relative to the review of their National 5 work. There is no requirement this year to match candidate performance to the detailed National 4 unit evidence requirements; the approach is more about a broad comparability of overall standards. It is essential that you keep records to document this process.

What records should I keep of how I have reached my decisions on resulting internally assessed units?

You should retain all assessment evidence, and the justification for your decision making, until 31 December 2020 to enable SQA to verify the decision-making process in future.

It is advisable to keep a list of the learners you have entered and resulted for each unit and to note the following information for each learner:

  • State whether the learner is entered for a corresponding group award or doing the unit on a freestanding basis.
  • Record the result awarded for each learner, for each unit
  • State how the decision on the result was reached — for example:
    • if you reviewed full or partial unit assessment evidence
    • if you reviewed other available evidence and/or used your professional judgement
    • if you used your professional judgment to consider evidence from other units within the same group award to determine if the learner has met the overall course or award aims

You must also include a statement or other indication of how your decisions have been peer reviewed and/or internally verified.

Here is an example of how you could collate and present this information:

What are the options for entering unit results?

When submitting unit results, you have the following result options:

Pass

The learner has met all the required outcomes and assessment standards, based on any of the following:

  • Complete unit assessment evidence
  • Partial unit assessment evidence plus other alternative evidence and professional judgement
  • Evidence from other units within the same group award, in relation to meeting the overall course or award aims

Fail

Based on the assessment evidence available, and using your professional judgement, the learner has not passed, or would not have passed, the unit.

Withdrawn

There is no available evidence, or insufficient evidence, to support a result decision

Open entry

Leave as open entry, if it is feasible to postpone assessment to a later date.

You should enter and submit unit results in the normal way. We have extended the deadline for unit results to Friday 12 June, following feedback from centres.

What arrangements should be made for learners undertaking qualifications delivered in partnership between schools and colleges?

As part of these partnerships, schools and colleges should work together to jointly agree whether it is possible to continue with learning, teaching and assessment. These decisions must be based on the best interests of individual learners.

Where some evidence of the course already exists but further progress is not possible, college lecturers will be able to take a holistic approach, where necessary, in making their assessment decisions. This will enable colleges to use their professional judgement to assess the available evidence, including other evidence produced by the learner, and their knowledge of the learners’ progress and achievements to date.

NQ Quality Assurance

We have already received selections and stationery for Round 2 verification. What will happen about these?

We have cancelled all scheduled Round 2 verification events and all verification visits for the remainder of this academic session, and you should have received notification of this by email.

You are not required to send any assessment materials to SQA. For National Qualifications, including Skills for Work courses, it is unlikely that we will undertake any remote verification, as we recognise assessment evidence is not always available in electronic format for these types of qualification.

We had some verification visits arranged with external verifiers. Should we contact them?

All scheduled verification visits for the remainder of this academic session have been cancelled and removed from SQA’s system. You do not need to contact the External Verifiers.

What will happen about the verification selections for this year that have been postponed? Will this affect certification for the qualifications selected?

Reports from verification activity that took place before 20 March 2020 are still being submitted by verifiers and processed by the NQ Verification Team for publication to centres.

For the qualifications that have been selected, but will not be verified in this academic session, teachers and lecturers should use their professional judgement to make assessment decisions using their own quality assurance procedures. This is a similar process to any other year for qualifications that are not selected for external verification. The results that you submit will be used for certification purposes.

For most selections not verified this session, we will review and, where appropriate, re-select in session 2020-21 using the evidence generated in session 2020-21 for verification.

If quality assurance is postponed, why do I need to keep hold of candidate evidence?

We have asked centres to retain candidate evidence until December 2020. This will allow us to carry out some verification activity in the future, most likely in autumn 2020. Further information on this will be issued later this session.

We have some outstanding actions from Round 1 verification or a verification visit that has already taken place and a hold on certification until these are completed. What should we do?

We have already completed about one third of all planned verification activity for this session and we are continuing to tie up any follow-up activities from this by e-mail with centres and verifiers. We will work on a case-by-case basis with all centres with a hold on certification from verification activity already carried out. We will contact those centres individually.

Is verification for the Scottish Baccalaureate Interdisciplinary Project postponed?

Yes. We have not issued selections for the Scottish Baccalaureate Interdisciplinary Project on 6 April. However, centres are requested to retain all assessment evidence gathered until December 2020 as they may be subject to future verification activity, most likely in autumn 2020.

Will prior verification requests still be accepted?

Yes, you can submit requests for prior verification at any time, as electronic materials can be sent to verifiers to consider and report on. This will depend on verifier availability.

Will qualification approval applications still be accepted?

All qualification approval visits are postponed until next session. The submission dates for approval applications for certification in 2020 has passed and we will not be accepting further applications.

However, you can continue to submit approval applications for qualifications to be delivered in session 2020-21 by email at any time. We will send these to approvers for desk approval, if that is possible, but most will be held for visits to be scheduled, when it is safe to do so.

NQ Estimates

I have 30 candidates in one refined band – can I use tied ranking?

Yes, for large multi-class cohorts tied rankings may be entered eg if you cannot distinguish between three candidates whom you would rank fifth in your rank order, enter 5 three times.

SQA strongly advises minimising the number of ties and minimising the number of candidates in any tied ranking.

My candidates were unable to complete their practical assignment/performance/portfolio – what evidence should I use?

You should draw on your evidence of candidate performance throughout the course and your experience of teaching the course to other cohorts and their attainment to estimate grades and bands. You should also rank your candidates in each refined band. SQA will moderate your estimates drawing on centre and national data.

Please see the SQA Academy course for more guidance.

It is impossible for me to access the physical evidence for preparing estimates – what should I do?

You will need to draw on the evidence available to you eg prelim results, records of homework and classwork, evidence in e-portfolios etc to inform your decision about the most likely, realistic outcome for each candidate had they been able to complete the course assessment. Please see the SQA Academy course for more guidance.

My candidates’ assignments were completed under controlled conditions and are packaged in school. It is not possible for me to access these materials – how do I prepare a fair estimate?

You are likely to have seen other work by candidates that is related to the assignment, this should give you an indication of the likely standard of the assignment. You might find it helpful to refer to the SQA Understanding Standards site where exemplar assignments are available.

I am a new teacher and have not taught a National Qualification class before?

Your SQA coordinator and subject lead will support you in making estimates. Centres will have data for cohorts in previous years.

Will SQA return coursework that I’ve already submitted?

No, SQA will retain any coursework to inform post-certification review.

Where it was possible for visits to take place in February and March, can marks awarded by visiting assessors be issued to centres to inform estimates?

No, this is not possible. Centres should estimate as they would in previous years for components assessed by visiting assessors. It has not been possible for marking to be quality assured and, due to COVID-19 restrictions, some marks have not yet been received by SQA. Centres must not contact visiting assessors directly to request that marks are disclosed.

What advice is available to ensure that equalities and bias are considered during the estimate process?

Our SQA Academy course on estimates provides teachers and lecturers with advice and guidance on taking a range of factors into account that may impact on their decision making on individual estimates for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses.

This includes candidates who have assessment arrangements, or who would have reasonable adjustments. Teachers and lecturers are asked to consider that these candidates may have been unable to access their usual levels of support in home learning situations, and that they may normally be taught by peripatetic teachers or support for learning specialists. Teachers and lecturers may wish to include these staff in estimate discussions.

The course also includes a section on bias, making clear that any discussion of fairness must take account of the possibility of bias. When coming to a decision about a candidate’s estimate, teachers and lecturers are reminded that they must try to detach themselves from the individual in order to be as objective and as ‘standard’ in their decisions as possible.

Candidate evidence should be valued for its own worth and merit as an indicator of course assessment, and a conscious effort should be made to consider and avoid the negative impact of potential implicit bias. Teachers and lectures should do this as they finalise their estimates and ranking by considering the accuracy of the decisions they make alongside candidate data on background, gender, disability, race and ethnicity, at both class and cohort presentation level.

Moderation across departments, learning areas and faculties, as well as Head of Centre sign-off, will ensure fairness for all candidates and ensure that robust standards are maintained.

How do I submit estimates for external learners who are home-schooled, privately tutored or who have previously studied at another centre?

If the learner is registered to your centre, then as the approved centre, you need to gather the appropriate evidence to enable you to submit a refined estimate for the learner. It is for you to decide what evidence you are prepared to accept and review, such as work completed at home, with a tutor or in a previous centre. You also need to be happy to authenticate this evidence and you can do this in a number of ways, such as discussing the work with the learner (and/or discussing with their tutor, where applicable).

If you are unable to authenticate the evidence – or you have no evidence upon which to base an estimate for the candidate – you will need to withdraw the learner.

If you choose not to proceed, the learner will need to be entered for the course by another SQA-approved centre, and that centre will also be required to submit an estimate grade to us. Your local authority may be able to advise the learner of any centres in your area that will accept new entries for external learners.

College staff

How can assessment judgements be standardised across the sector?

The assessment guidance we have provided to colleges supports standardisation of approach across the sector. These are truly exceptional circumstances and it will not be possible to moderate assessment judgements sector wide. Colleges will apply professional judgement and evidence to deliver fair and reasonable outcomes for their students.

How do colleges quality assure?

Internal Quality Assurance will be strengthened within each college to support, advise, moderate and confirm the work of course teams in line with SQA guidance. This will support the change from assessment decisions being made by individual assessors to a more holistic, course team approach to decision making.

Can colleges still share resources and approaches across the sector?

SQA will support with guidance and resources wherever possible. Colleges may use existing networks for sharing of resources where possible and practicable. However, approaches for supporting students in generating assessment evidence are dependent on a wide range of local factors, including the stage to which assessment has already been achieved, access to equipment and resources, and remote communication networks. Therefore, assessment approaches and conditions will be based on professional judgement at a local level.

Will college staff be able to devise and implement alternative assessment instruments without having these prior verified?

In these exceptional circumstances, the approaches to alternative assessment and the development of any additional assessment methods would be entrusted to the professional judgement of the course team, and subject to normal internal verification arrangements.

How will all of this apply to students with additional support needs?

Staff should choose the most appropriate assessment method to make the assessment accessible. This will be in partnership with college student support services. This could include, for example, the use of professional discussion as an alternative to written evidence if a scribe is usually required.

Can colleges use open-book assessment in lieu of closed-book?

Yes, this would be a suitable alternative approach in some cases, in agreement with SQA. For example, it may be desirable to set this as a timed assessment. Whilst flexibility around conditions of assessment may allow open-book activities to replace established closed-book practice, care must be taken not to compromise existing secure assessment materials.

How can colleges apply a grade to a Graded Unit where this cannot be completed and may even be the weakest element of available evidence?

The Graded Unit is the summation and application of the candidate’s understanding of mandatory units in the HNC or HND to meet the course aims. The course team, through a professional discussion, review the quality and sufficiency of candidate evidence, in addition to any work submitted for the Graded Unit, to determine a grade.

What about SVQs? Can colleges apply the same guidance?

No, SVQs are subject to regulatory requirements, and separate guidance will be issued in respect of these.

What about other awarding bodies? Can we apply SQA’s guidance to their qualifications? Or their guidance to SQA qualifications?

No, each awarding body will detail their own arrangements for their own qualifications, and separate guidance will be issued in respect of these.

Does there need to be evidence for all outcomes?

Where possible, outcome decisions should be based on a holistic review of all available candidate evidence, as well as staff knowledge of their candidates, their engagement, progress and their achievements to date. This may include areas where the available evidence is used to infer competence or predict an outcome that is reasonable and justifiable in respect of the wider evidence base available.

What arrangements should be made for learners undertaking qualifications delivered in partnership between schools and colleges?

As part of these partnerships, schools and colleges should work together to jointly agree whether it is possible to continue with learning, teaching and assessment. These decisions must be based on the best interests of individual learners.

Where some evidence of the course already exists but further progress is not possible, college lecturers will be able to take a holistic approach, where necessary, in making their assessment decisions. This will enable colleges to use their professional judgement to assess the available evidence, including other evidence produced by the learner, and their knowledge of the learners’ progress and achievements to date.