• Kenneth Gibson MSP

SQA Awards Update on 2021 Higher and Advanced Higher Exams


Plans for the 2021 exam diet have been updated in light of continuing disruption to young people’s education caused by coronavirus (COVID-19). Higher and Advanced Higher exams will not proceed and will be replaced with awards based on teacher judgement of evidence of pupils’ attainment. The assessment model will be based on the approach already agreed for National 5 awards. The National Qualifications 2021 group, led by the SQA and involving local authority directors of educations, the EIS, and others, has been working to develop the model for assessing National 5 qualifications. Since the return to school in August, there have been varied instances of COVID-related disruption to learning, with a higher proportion of pupils from more deprived areas having to spend time out of school. Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP said: “In October, I said Highers and Advanced Highers would go ahead if it was safe and fair to do so. Since then, many pupils have suffered disruption because of COVID, as they were obliged to self-isolate or even saw their school closed. The level of disruption has, however, not been the same across the board; pupils in deprived areas have been hit hardest. “While we hope that public health will improve in the coming months with the roll-out of the vaccine, we cannot guarantee that there will be no further disruption to pupils’ learning. “Holding exams would run the risk of translating the unequal impact of COVID into unfair results for our poorest pupils, leading to their futures being blighted through no fault of their own. That is simply not fair. “There will be no Higher or Advanced Higher exams in 2021. Instead we will adopt a new model that is based on the one developed for National 5 qualifications and make awards on teacher judgement of evidence of learner attainment. This approach is more flexible and takes account of the reality of the disruption so many pupils have already had to their learning.” Kenneth Gibson MSP said: “The decision not to conduct exams has not been reached lightly and shows how the impact of COVID-19 continues to reverberate across all aspects of our lives. “It had been my hope that young people could have a normal final year in secondary school. Sadly, with the pandemic the least we can do is make life as fair for them so they can move on as seamlessly as possible once the pandemic is behind us.” Mr Swinney also announced there will be an exceptional one-off payment to teachers and lecturers who are critical to assessing and marking National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses this year. Results for learners will be awarded on 10 August. The Deputy First Minister’s statement to Parliament on 8 December is here Delivering National 5 results in 2020-21 - SQA

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