National Qualifications 2020 Awarding - an update for schools and colleges

Wednesday 03 June 2020

In response to the cancellation of this year's exams, we have been working on developing an alternative certification model, to ensure the hard work of Scotland's learners is fully recognised through our qualifications system. Following the receipt of refined estimates for learners from schools and colleges across Scotland, I would like to further update you on our work this year, including details of our free appeals service.

As you know, three guiding principles have underpinned our work:

I am committed to ensuring we meet our obligations to the Equality Act 2010 and the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, through an equality impact assessment of our approach to certification this year. We take this commitment very seriously. It is also, of course, our intention to publish the assessment.

As I set out on 20 April, our approach is made up of four steps. Here is an update on each of these steps.

Step 1 - Estimates

Estimates are the core element of the certification process this year, in the absence of national performance data such as exams and coursework. These estimates have now been submitted to us by schools and colleges across Scotland.

To support schools and colleges with the estimation process, we provided detailed information and an online SQA Academy course. Teachers, lecturers and partners from across education helped inform the approach and the guidance, which included advice on ensuring consideration of equalities issues and the impact of potential bias.

I am very grateful to all teachers and lecturers, SQA co-ordinators, school and college staff, local authorities, professional associations and national organisations, who have worked together, in difficult circumstances, to successfully deliver refined estimates and rankings for all learners entered for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses. 

Now that all the information has been received, we are progressing with the awarding process.

Step 2 - Awarding

The alternative certification model will allow us to award grades for all learners entered for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses as fairly and reliably as possible, across subjects and levels. It is based on teacher and lecturer estimates, with associated moderation by schools, colleges and SQA.

The data we will be working with includes school and college estimates, rank orders, historical results and estimates for all National Courses as well as learners' prior attainment data for many Highers and Advanced Highers. This will allow us to explore the reasons for any apparent changes in the pattern of attainment (compared with previous years) that are reflected in the estimates submitted by schools and colleges.

To be as fair as possible such an approach needs to incorporate multiple checks and decision rules to identify where adjustment may be necessary. But it is important to highlight that, in Scotland, there are some qualifications that have low uptake either at a school and college level or at a national level.

Prior attainment data is also not available for National 5 and some Higher learners. This means that we will not use a purely statistical approach to moderation. Final grade distributions will be signed-off through national awarding meetings. Each meeting will involve input from senior qualifications staff in SQA and principal assessors for each subject and level.

It is important for us now to concentrate on the significant task of considering these estimates so that we can meet the timescales to deliver results to learners on 4 August. In line with our approach every year, we will be clear about the awarding process on Results Day.

This year, this will of course include the detail underpinning our approach and the impact of any moderation that we have had to make to estimates.

Step 3 - Results and Certification

I can confirm that results will be issued to learners on Tuesday 4 August, by post and via MySQA, our online and text service.

Learners are strongly encouraged to sign-up to MySQA, as a direct way to receive their results.

Step 4 - Appeals

After 4 August, a free appeals or post-certification review process will be available to schools and colleges to allow them to request a review of the grade awarded for a learner or a group of learners. It is important that such a service is in place in this exceptional year.

If a learner has a concern about their results, they should discuss it with their school or college as soon as possible after 4 August. As we do every year, we will give priority to requests for those learners requiring a result to secure a conditional place at college or university.

For schools and colleges to request a review, the following criteria must be met:

In some cases, SQA may already hold evidence that has previously been submitted but not marked, for example some National 5 coursework.

Schools and colleges may want to submit a rationale for their decision-making for each learner or group of learners, which highlights the key areas of evidence that they believe validates their estimated grade.

Requests must be signed-off by the head of centre, or their representative, before being submitted to SQA.

Once a request and all the associated assessment evidence is received, it will be reviewed by our senior subject specialist examiners and they will either accept or reject the request, based on the evidence submitted.

If a request is accepted, the learner will be upgraded. If the learner requires the result for a conditional college or university place, we will advise the school or college, the higher education institute and UCAS, as appropriate. Learners will be sent an updated Scottish Qualifications Certificate after all review requests for 2020 have been completed.

If a request is rejected, we will confirm the original grade certificated, or an alternative lower grade, with the school or college.

It is possible that a lower grade may be awarded following a review because the alternative evidence supplied is judged to be so far from standard that it cannot support either the original school or college estimate or the certificated grade awarded.

We expect this to be very rare and if it does occur, we would have further dialogue with the school or college. The inclusion of this option within the review process supports fairness and equity to all learners, while maintaining the integrity and credibility of the qualifications.

We will also put in place a process to consider review requests from schools and colleges based on an administrative or academic error in the original estimate process. This will only be by exception and will require support from a head teacher or college principal, and agreement from an SQA director.

More detailed guidance on the review process, evidence required and planned dates for the service including uplift dates for the collection of evidence from centres, will be sent to schools and colleges on 19 June.

A system user guide providing information on how to make review requests, detailed instructions on how to package the evidence and what support is available, will follow before 4 August, when the service opens.

Everyone at SQA remains committed to delivering results to learners, in as fair a way as possible, allowing them to progress to further learning or work. We all want to ensure the class of 2020 can hold their heads high, now and in the future, with their qualifications fully recognised as they would be in any year.

We continue to provide support and resources on our dedicated teacher and lecturer, learner and parent and carer web pages. We are also working with national bodies, such as the National Parent Forum of Scotland, Connect, Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament to share information on what is happening and when.

I am very grateful for your continued support. By working in partnership, we can achieve our common goal, of ensuring that learners' hard work is rightly and fairly recognised.

Fiona Robertson

SQA Chief Executive and Scotland's Chief Examining Officer


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