This year's exams: How things will work

The Council’s Director of Education and Children’s Services, Laurence Findlay has written to the families of all young people who would have been due to sit exams at school to offer some assurances about this year’s process.

Since exams were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March, the SQA has been working to develop a  robust model of certification to ensure this year’s candidates can be awarded the grades they would have merited should the examinations have progressed as normal.

Here are some FAQs to help everyone better understand how things will work.

How will SQA awards be allocated to young people?Teachers submit estimates every year to the SQA by the end of April on how they expect candidates to perform in the final examination, but this year, as this will be one of the most important factors in allocating awards, teachers will have until May 29 to submit estimates.
The SQA will use teacher estimates to:
· help make decisions about certification
· check that awarding outcomes are as fair as possible to candidates
· ascertain whether a centre’s estimates this session are consistent with outcomes in previous years

This will then inform the final award which the SQA allocate for each course to each student, in August.

What will estimates be based on? 
Each estimate grade will be based on the teacher’s professional judgement of what a student would have been likely to achieve in the exam in this year’s examination diet. Each teacher’s professional judgement will be informed by various sources of evidence, which may include ongoing class assessments, prelims, homework and other assignments and coursework completed over the course of a year. Teachers will consider all of this evidence alongside any improvements a student has made since the prelim exams held earlier this session.

Teachers will have engaged in moderation and quality assurance activities with colleagues to validate their own assessment of a student’s performance. All estimates will be signed off by head teachers.

To assist teachers and schools in allocating estimate grades, the SQA will be sending back to schools the estimates and then the actual grades for all learners from the past three years’ examination diets to show the link between school estimate grades and the final grades awarded by SQA.

Will there be an appeals mechanism in place? 
There has been no appeals process in place for SQA exams since 2014 when the previous appeals system was replaced with a marking review. However, given this year’s extraordinary circumstances, the SQA will be re-introducing a free appeals process whereby schools can appeal if they feel a candidate has received the wrong award and they have evidence to present to appeal the grade awarded.

Should any young person feel particularly anxious at this time, then they should contact their school to discuss their specific concerns to ensure appropriate support and reassurance can be provided at what is a challenging time.

Councillor Gillian Owen, Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, offered her support to young people as well as teaching colleagues. She said: “I would like to wish all our young people the very best for their future studies or onward journeys post school. Well done for all that you have achieved.

“We are extremely fortunate in Aberdeenshire to have a well-trained and highly skilled and experienced teacher workforce. We also have a robust and well-tested process for analysing SQA data and school performance both at local authority and individual school levels, and I have every confidence in our colleagues who consistently demonstrate through school performance reviews just how skilled and knowledgeable they are. Thanks for all your hard work in putting together these estimates.”

Vice Chair Cllr Rosemary Bruce added: “Well done to all our young people across Aberdeenshire for your hard work throughout this school year. Be proud of all that you have achieved and look forward to continuing your lifelong learning journey. Thank you too to our teaching colleagues whose dedication should be applauded as we navigate these unchartered waters together. We will get through this.”