SQA responds to Scottish Youth Parliament open letter

16 June 2021

Thank you for your letter, sent on behalf of a number of signatories, and received on the evening of 7 June 2021.

First and foremost, let me say that I take very seriously the issues you raise in your letter. I fully appreciate that this has been a very challenging year for young people across Scotland. Their education has been disrupted and this has impacted on the mental health of some of our young people.

The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) and National Parent Forum of Scotland’s (NPFS) membership of the National Qualifications 2021 Group, together with the establishment of the Learner Panel that SYP run on behalf of SQA, has been invaluable in ensuring the voices of young people and their parents/carers are heard and considered.

Following the cancellation of exams by Scottish Ministers, we have worked hard through the National Qualifications 2021 Group to put an alternative certification model in place which has teacher professional judgement based on demonstrated attainment at its heart, and provides flexibility to schools, colleges and training providers around the assessment approach.

We have stripped back the assessment requirements and extended deadlines to maximise the time available for learning and teaching. We have also created a contingency for later certification for those young people who have, through no fault of their own, been unable to provide completed evidence before Friday 25 June.

These arrangements reflect this year’s exceptional circumstances, and on 10 May the National Qualifications 2021 Group jointly communicated the steps being taken to address the impact of disruption to learning on certification this year .

Every effort is being made to ensure that learners get the right result, first time. However, an appeals process is an important part of the alternative certification model and we have consulted widely on this approach, including online sessions with our learner panel. There are clear, broad grounds of appeal in place and, for the first time, learners have a free direct right of appeal.

Understandably, a range of views have been expressed about the appeals service and decisions were very carefully considered, as part of the wider approach to alternative certification, including with Scottish Ministers, taking all views into account.

The symmetry of the appeals process aligns with the principle of demonstrated attainment – that evidence drives judgements about grades. This is consistent with our approach every year, even in exceptional circumstances, and remains important this year. It is also consistent with the approach taken in other parts of the UK. Downgrades are extremely rare, as they should be.

Alongside information on the appeals service which is being sent to every learner across Scotland, SQA produced an Equality Impact Assessment (388 KB) and a Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (290 KB) that summarises the evidence considered during the development of the appeals service. I hope that this provides assurance of the steps SQA has taken to ensure full consideration was given to upholding young people’s rights.

I look forward to continuing to work with SYP, NPFS and co-signatories to your letter so that we can all pull together to deliver for young people in these exceptional and challenging circumstances.

Fiona Robertson
SQA Chief Executive and Chief Examiner

Read the Scottish Youth Parliament's open letter to SQA