SQA statement on arrangements for the assessment of National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses in the 2020-21 session

Wednesday 7 October 2020

The Deputy First Minister has today announced a number of measures for the awarding of National Courses at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher in 2020-21. There will be no external assessment of National 5 courses this year – either by an exam or by coursework. Higher and Advanced Higher externally assessed exams, including the completion of coursework where appropriate, will remain as planned.

The Deputy First Minister’s statement draws on the Priestley Review, which reflects on awarding in 2020. We will duly reflect and consider the review findings and will be responding to the Scottish Government on next steps shortly.

I give you my assurance that SQA is committed to listening and being responsive to the needs of schools, colleges, stakeholders, learners and parents/carers and will play its full part in delivering the measures outlined by the Deputy First Minister today.

National 5

National 5 courses will now be assessed using an alternative certification approach. This will be based on teacher and lecturer judgement supported by assessment resources and quality assurance.

SQA has today published broad guidance on evidence gathering and estimation with a very clear focus on the quality, not quantity, of evidence. This is accompanied by an SQA Academy Course on quality assuring estimates. This will be followed after the October break by subject specific guidance, published on a rolling basis, on the work that learners need to complete. Where possible, we will specify between two and four pieces of work per subject that will form the basis of arriving at a final award. We will also provide some additional resources that teachers and lecturers can draw on for assessment purposes.

Crucially, we will work with schools and colleges through the year on the quality assurance of their learners’ work, including sampling work and feeding back to teachers and lecturers to ensure standards are maintained. This is essential in providing fairness to learners across Scotland and central to SQA’s role as Scotland’s awarding body.

We will also work with Education Scotland, local authorities, regional improvement collaboratives and others to support a local and national approach to moderation and quality assurance, including the provision of assessment resources. We will provide an update on this work as soon as possible.

You may know that, in August, we undertook two consultations on modifications to assessment across National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher and changes to the exam timetable. In total, we received a very significant volume of responses – over 23,000 – from learners, parents, carers, teachers, lecturers, and stakeholders – including professional associations. SQA has analysed all the feedback received and acted on it.

In response to this consultation, we have today published information on the modifications for individual subjects. These are designed to assist learning and teaching and are available on each NQ subject page. We have also provided an Outcomes of National Consultation document which contains all the final modification decisions and analysis, alongside an Equalities Impact Assessment and Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment of the course modifications.

Higher and Advanced Higher

Today we can also confirm that the Higher and Advanced Higher exams are planned to start on Thursday 13 May 2021 and finish on Friday 4 June 2021, with Results Day on Tuesday 10 August 2021. We will publish the full exam timetable at the end of October.

Although the decision has been taken to remove National 5 exams and move Higher and Advanced Higher exams to the end of the planned timetable, a summary of the timetable consultation is now also available on our website.

Contingency arrangements for Higher and Advanced Higher

As the Deputy First Minister has said, a system-wide, collaborative approach is imperative to the delivery of the assessment and moderation approach for 2021. A clear contingency plan will continue to be developed, including key checkpoints up to the February break to assess public health advice and its impact on the plans for these exams.

For its part, SQA is continuing to engage directly with the system on contingency arrangements for the Higher and Advanced Higher exams, should the current position change in the coming months. We are currently speaking with more than 450 staff from schools, colleges, and local authorities, to help us collaboratively develop appropriate contingencies. We are also speaking with parent, carer, and learner representatives to ensure their views are heard.


Fiona Robertson
SQA Chief Executive and Scotland’s Chief Examining Officer