2020 Qualifications: Student and staff support for FE colleges

We continue to work with Colleges Scotland and individual colleges, to put arrangements in place to recognise learner achievement in as fair a way as possible.

HNC/HND, PDA, NC, NPA, Skills for Work and NQ freestanding units

Working with Colleges Scotland, we have created guidance to support college staff in gathering evidence and making assessment decisions.

SQA and Colleges Scotland assessment guidance

We have also provided SQA Coordinators with subject-specific guidance for HNC/HNDs and PDAs. This includes areas where changes to assessment are not possible, for example Dental Nursing and Social Care.

Gathering evidence - assessment materials/activities

Please note that while flexibility around assessment may allow open-book instead of closed-book activities, course teams should use their centre-devised assessments in the first instance.

If you wish to use alternative assessments, available on our secure site, you must inform us at qvprior@sqa.org.uk.

Regulated Qualifications

We are working with SQA Accreditation and other regulatory bodies to consider if adjustments can be made for some regulated qualifications, including Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) and licence to practise qualifications.

Quality assurance

Colleges should continue to use their own quality assurance processes to verify internal assessment outcomes and certification.

To allow for the change in approach for this session, internal quality assurance panels have been introduced to complement and strengthen the course team model. This will ensure a consistent approach to judgements and fairness for learners.

Please retain all assessment evidence of course team decisions and internal quality assurance panels, until 31 December 2020.

HNVQ - Qualification verification

We are making a change to our Candidate Evidence Retention policy. Centres must now keep candidate evidence for six months after the resulting date of each qualification.  

Read more about the changes

Latest coronavirus statements

College staff questions answered

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 candidateís 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 SQAís 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 learnersí progress and achievements to date.

Student questions answered

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 ó 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.

Shouldnít all students just pass the course? It isnít our fault we canít 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 donít have computer access to my college. How will my assessment decision be determined? / I have caring responsibilities and havenít 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.

I havenít 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.


Here is a range of free resources you may find useful.

Mental health and wellbeing support

Reach: Get help - My learning and support during coronavirus

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Young Scot: Aye Feel

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SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health): Children and young people

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LGBT Youth Scotland: Mental health

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