Reporting malpractice concerns

Everyone involved in Scotland’s qualifications system has a role to play in supporting the delivery of fair and credible assessments and upholding the integrity of qualifications. This is essential to ensuring fairness for all learners.

It is important that all users of qualifications are confident that the qualifications genuinely reflect what learners know, understand and can do. Ensuring fairness of assessment, which includes preventing and addressing malpractice in the design and delivery of our qualifications and assessments, is fundamental to our purpose, and is the cornerstone of the qualifications system on which learners depend.

Where concerns of possible malpractice arise, they must be dealt with, by SQA and by others, sensitively, robustly and above all fairly. These can be difficult situations for the individuals involved. SQA is always focused on maintaining the integrity of certification and ensuring fairness for those involved, particularly any candidates affected. All concerns of potential malpractice must be investigated consistently, fairly and impartially.

Malpractice is any act, default or practice (whether deliberate or resulting from neglect or default) which breaches SQA requirements, including any act, default or practice that:

  • compromises, attempts to compromise, or may compromise, the process of assessment, the integrity of any SQA qualification, or the validity of a result or certificate; and/or
  • damages the authority, reputation or credibility of SQA or any officer, employee or agent of SQA

Malpractice can arise for a variety of reasons:

  • Some incidents are intentional and aim to give an unfair advantage or disadvantage in an examination or assessment (deliberate non-compliance). Examples might include:
    • completing assessment work on behalf of learners; or
    • falsification of information leading to certification
  • Some incidents of malpractice are unintentional. We define unintentional malpractice as 'maladministration', which includes incidents that arise due to ignorance of SQA requirements, carelessness or neglect in applying the requirements. Examples might include:
    • seeking approval to offer a new qualification after the deadline for new approval applications has passed; or
    • requesting late certification of learners after a regulated qualification’s certification end date

Malpractice can include both deliberate non-compliance with SQA requirements and maladministration in the assessment and delivery of SQA qualifications.

SQA malpractice information for centres

Malpractice: Information for centres (306 KB), applies to all qualifications other than those regulated by Ofqual or Qualifications Wales. It:

  • describes the arrangements that we expect our centres to put in place to minimise the risk of malpractice
  • explains how we expect concerns of malpractice to be handled, if and when they arise

Qualifications regulated by Ofqual or Qualifications Wales

Malpractice policy and procedures for SQA Qualifications regulated by Ofqual and/or Qualification Wales (197 KB), explains how we expect concerns of malpractice to be handled, if and when they arise, for those qualifications.

Reporting concerns of potential malpractice to SQA

SQA takes all concerns of potential malpractice very seriously. They will be considered very carefully and sensitively by our team of experienced staff.

There are different ways of reporting your concerns to us.

Candidate malpractice

  • breaching the security of assessment materials in a way which threatens the integrity of any exam or assessment - including the early and unauthorised removal of a question paper or answer booklet from the examination room
  • breaching the defined conditions of an assessment (e.g., completing work outside of controlled conditions)
  • collusion - working collaboratively with other candidates beyond what is permitted
  • copying from another candidate
  • frivolous content - producing content that is unrelated to the assessment
  • misconduct - inappropriate behaviour in an assessment room that is disruptive and/or disrespectful to others. This includes talking, shouting and/or aggressive behaviour or language in the examination room
  • offensive content - content in assessment materials that includes vulgarity and swearing that is outwith the context of the assessment, or any material that is discriminatory in nature (including discrimination in relation to the protected characteristics identified in the Equality Act 2010). This should not be read as inhibiting candidates' rights to freedom of expression.
  • personation - assuming the identity of another candidate, or a candidate having someone assume their identity during an assessment
  • plagiarism - failure to acknowledge sources properly and/or the submission of another person's work as if it were the candidate's own
  • prohibited items - possessing items that candidates must not have with them at their allocated seat in the examination room because they can give an unfair advantage, including (but not restricted to): mobile phones; electronic devices such as an MP3 player, iPod, tablet, smartwatch or any other device that is web-enabled or stores information; books, notes, sketches or paper; pencil case; calculator case; calculator or dictionary (except in specified assessments) - unless approved by SQA as part of an assessment arrangement

NQ external assessment candidate malpractice enquiries

If you are concerned that candidate malpractice may have occurred, or have general enquiries about candidate malpractice for external assessments for National Qualifications marked by SQA Examiners, contact:

For Higher National (HN), vocational and qualifications regulated by SQA Accreditation, OFQUAL and Qualifications Wales

Candidate malpractice concerns that relate to internal assessments marked by the centre should be referred to the head of centre in the first instance. If you feel you are unable to do this, you should refer your concerns to SQA.

Centres can report the findings to SQA of a centre led investigation into suspected or confirmed candidate malpractice by completing this form:

Centre malpractice

  • managers or others exerting undue pressure on staff to pass candidates who have not met the requirements for an award
  • deliberate falsification of records in order to claim certificates
  • excessive direction from assessors to candidates on how to meet national standards
  • failure to assess internally-assessed unit or course assessment work fairly, consistently and in line with national standards
  • failure to comply with SQA requirements in the preparation, quality assurance and submission of estimated grade information
  • failure to apply specified SQA assessment conditions in assessments, such as limits on resources or time available to candidates to complete their assessments, including any amendments to permitted conditions
  • misuse of assessments, including repeated re-assessment contrary to requirements, or inappropriate adjustments to assessment decisions
  • failure to recognise and apply appropriate measures to manage potential conflict of interest in assessment or quality assurance
  • failure to apply appropriate processes to ensure fairness in the provision of assessment arrangements
  • failure to comply with SQA requirements in relation to appeals processes
  • insecure storage, transmission or use of assessment instruments, materials and marking instructions, resulting in a breach of assessment security
  • failure to comply with requirements for safe retention of candidate evidence, and safe and accurate maintenance of assessment and internal verification records
  • failure to comply with SQA's procedures for managing and transferring accurate candidate data
  • failing to register candidates within a qualification's accreditation period
  • making late registrations to the awarding body for qualifications in their lapsing period
  • requesting late certification of learners after the certification end date
  • for all SQA qualifications, failure by a centre to promptly notify, investigate and report concerns of potential centre malpractice to SQA
  • failure to promptly notify SQA of a finding of centre malpractice, maladministration or an equivalent or similar finding by another awarding organisation
  • withholding information about circumstances that may compromise the integrity of any SQA qualification or the credibility of SQA
  • failure to notify SQA promptly if another awarding body removes approval from the centre, regardless of the reason given for this withdrawal
  • failure to take action required by SQA or to co-operate with an SQA investigation into concerns of malpractice
  • for qualifications subject to regulation by SQA Accreditation, Ofqual or Qualifications Wales, failure by a centre to notify, investigate and report to SQA concerns of potential candidate malpractice

If you are concerned that centre malpractice may have occurred, you can report this to:

To help us investigate your concern, we need as much information from you as possible.

The information we need to investigate your concern is:

  • centre name
  • qualification/subject name
  • date the incident occurred
  • details of individuals involved
  • nature of the concern
  • is anyone else aware of the concern?

Without the information listed above we may not be able to fully investigate your concerns.

Contact details

We understand that you may wish to remain anonymous. However, if you do not provide SQA with your name and/or contact details we may not be able to fully investigate your concerns. If you do provide us with your name and/or contact details, we will always seek your consent before providing your details to a third party, unless legally obliged to do so.

SQA manages investigations of potential centre malpractice discreetly, and we will normally discuss the progress and outcome of a centre malpractice investigation only with the head of centre or their nominee.


SQA is committed to ensuring that its centre malpractice related work enables fair decision making, and that action is taken to address any unnecessary barriers that arise related to equality. If you have been involved in a centre malpractice investigation and have identified any difficulties that arise from participants’ protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation) or care experience, please let us know in order that we can consider any actions we may need to take to help others in future.

Have you been asked to investigate a malpractice concern?

Malpractice: Standards for Devolved Investigations (169 KB) sets out our expectations when we ask centres to complete a malpractice investigation.

SQA malpractice reports