National Qualifications 2021 Group - Disruption to Learning

Monday 10 May 2021

Further to its latest update published on Tuesday 13 April 2021, the National Qualifications 2021 Group* is acutely aware that the extended lockdown between January and March has created a truncated window for the production of evidence to support professional judgement around provisional grades. In some instances, this challenge may be compounded by individual learners being required to self-isolate during the post-Easter period.

Flexibility in gathering learner evidence

A key way in which disruption to learning can be addressed is by utilising the full flexibility of the alternative certification model for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses. Based on teacher and lecturer assessment of demonstrated learner attainment, the model has the flexibility to ensure that, as far as possible, there is maximum opportunity for learners to undertake the required learning and be given the best chance to succeed in their course assessments.

In light of such flexibility, and in the interests of enabling all learners to achieve their best, opportunities for gathering evidence should not be solely based on one-off, high-stakes scenarios. Rather, schools, colleges and training providers are encouraged to make use of the considerable flexibility in how and when to carry out assessments. The evidence base for each provisional result does not have to be identical for every candidate and may include assessment evidence produced prior to the period of remote learning providing it meets the conditions of assessment relative to the course.

Subject-specific guidance, as well as remote assessment guidance, has been provided to support teachers and lecturers in gathering assessment evidence that demonstrates learners' knowledge and skills within their courses. The evidence base for individual learners can vary within the broad parameters of the guidance.

Additional assessment arrangements also need to be provided, as they would under normal circumstances, for those learners who are disabled or have identified additional support needs.

Summary of steps taken to address disruption to learning

To help ensure as many learners as possible can generate the assessment evidence required for certification, working closely with partners, SQA has:

Enhanced e-Sgoil offer

As part of the digital learning from Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar, e-Sgoil ( is supporting learning and teaching by adding to their wide range of interactive study support webinars and drop-in sessions via Glow to help consolidate school-based learning. These sessions are live and will be delivered both during and outwith school hours. They are delivered by subject specialist teachers who focus on a pre-published list of topics and include learning materials shared in advance of the webinars. The webinars may be useful for learners who have experienced severe disruption to learning and who need additional study support to complete their courses. Education Scotland shared information regarding this online study support with Directors of Education on 28 April 2021.

Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service

SQA has received enquiries regarding the use of their Exceptional Circumstances Consideration Service for 2021. This service allowed alternative evidence, similar to the evidence required for the Alternative Certification Model, to be considered in the case of a candidate not being able to sit the external exam due to circumstances outwith their control, or due to circumstances that affected their performance in the external exam.

Due to the 2021 SQA exams being cancelled and the fact that provisional results will be based on assessment evidence generated within schools, colleges and training providers in a range of ways, this evidence-based service will not operate this session. This year the Alternative Certification Model allows centres to base provisional results upon a wide range of evidence, just as SQA would do for the Exceptional Circumstances service when formal SQA exams were operating.

As mentioned above, there is flexibility for schools, colleges and training providers on how and when to capture the evidence base that will be used by teachers and lecturers to determine learners' provisional results.

It also provides teachers and lecturers with more scope to match assessment approaches to the needs and circumstances of individual learners, for example where a learner has missed an assessment opportunity through absence, a bespoke alternative can be deployed. Notwithstanding this flexibility, a situation may arise where a learner is unable to generate the full range of evidence required to demonstrate attainment across key course elements, falling short in perhaps just one key element.

Contingency arrangement for incomplete assessment evidence

To ensure a degree of equity for learners who have been unduly disadvantaged by severe disruption to learning and teaching, a limited opportunity to submit provisional results by 3 September 2021 is being created. This can be offered to candidates who have completed the learning and teaching of their course but who have not been able to complete their assessment evidence in time for the 25 June submission date.

Clearly, deployment of this option will require careful consideration by both learner and their centre, with the default position being to meet the evidence requirements within the current time frame wherever possible. The incomplete evidence contingency would apply only when extended absence on the part of a learner has reduced their ability to produce all the necessary evidence and where no alternative arrangement has been possible. It would not apply where a learner wished to attempt to improve on existing evidence or to take advantage of an extended period of preparation.

The National Qualifications 2021 Group is conscious of the practical considerations arising from this contingency: precisely how and when the required evidence would be generated, how and when quality assured grades would be provided to SQA and implications for potential school and college leavers. Further guidance will be developed around such issues in due course. Whilst it is anticipated that the number of learners needing to utilise this contingency will be very small, it is nonetheless an important approach to ensuring equity in the system.

The enhanced e-Sgoil offer will also include drop-in sessions during the summer months for the small number of learners who have been identified by their centre as suitable for this incomplete assessment evidence contingency. This will act as a study resource for these learners so they are prepared to carry out assessments when they return after the summer break.

What to do next

Where an individual learner's personal circumstances have resulted in extreme disruption to learning, including those who are or have been shielding, schools, colleges and training providers should consider the best way to generate sufficient assessment evidence and discuss options with the learner and, where appropriate, their parents/carers. This may include narrowing the teaching, learning and assessment focus to the minimum requirements, maximising the flexibility in how and when assessment evidence is gathered, and considering the use of alternative evidence such as classwork or work carried out at home, which has been gathered using similar assessment standards. If the use of work carried out at home is required, teachers and lecturers should refer to the remote assessment guidance.

Decisions on which option is in the best interests of the individual learner should be made by teachers and lecturers following discussion with the learner and their parents/carers.

To stay up to date on National Qualifications for 2021 visit

National Qualifications 2021 Group

* The National Qualifications 2021 Group is represented by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), Colleges Scotland, Education Scotland, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), School Leaders Scotland (SLS), the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the Scottish Government, National Parent Forum of Scotland, and the Scottish Youth Parliament.