FOI20/21 162 2021 Awarding

Date published: 21/01/2021

FOI reference: 20/21 162

Date received: 01/12/2020

Date responded: 21/01/2021

Information requested

As a result of using teacher estimates to grade pupils receiving qualifications in 2020 there were large increases in the pass rate at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher.

At the time SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson suggested that one reason teacher estimates were above historic attainment was because “some teachers and lecturers may have been optimistic, given the circumstances”.

 It is now four months since the results were first published.  Can you please tell me:

 - what work has been done/activities been undertaken to better understand why teacher estimates were so much higher than historic attainment

- please provide me with any written information exploring this issue - including, but not exclusive to, emails, briefings and reports

I would like to receive this information via email. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if the above is unclear.


In the period following 2020 Awarding a number of initiatives have been instigated by the Scottish Government and SQA to better understand the process of awarding in 2020 and to prepare for Awarding 2021 in the face of the continuing pandemic and its effects on education.


The Scottish Government commissioned Prof Mark Priestley to undertake an independent review of the processes through which National Qualifications were awarded in 2020.  Prof Priestley spoke with a range of stakeholders, including teachers; and made recommendations for the awarding process.  This report can be accessed at the following link: National Qualifications Experience 2020: Rapid Review (

In planning for 2021, SQA has taken an approach that draws on the recommendations of the Priestley Report.

Specifically, SQA has been working co-constructively with stakeholders, and has incorporated their views on how best to provide support to teachers in 2021 to improve the nature of estimates.  SQA has set up two NQ 2021 groups - a working group and a steering group - with wide ranging membership across the educational sector.  These groups are meeting weekly at the moment to jointly develop our approaches this session. 

SQA appeared at the Education and Skills Committee on Wednesday 13 January 2021 to discuss this approach.  A paper explaining SQA's approach was provided to the Committee and is attached here.   This paper provides details of all SQA activities - development of generic guidance, subject specific guidance, assessment resources that teachers and lecturers can use, understanding standards support and a Quality Assurance process to support certification this year.  The mechanics of the QA process may change due to the new lockdown and we are working our way through that in conjunction with external partners.

The subject specific guidance (for 143 subjects) has been developed and published on each subject page on the website.   These can be accessed at the web address below.  An important distinction between 2020 and this session is that the grades awarded to candidates for 2021 will be based on demonstrated evidence of attainment rather than the inference of their potential performance in an examination.  This session SQA has provided a range of additional subject specific guidance, assessment resources and enhanced understanding standards support.

National Qualifications



SQA Written Submission - Education Skills Committee session on 13 January 2021 (89 KB)