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What teachers need to know about today’s SQA letter

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has today written to schools, colleges and training providers about supporting students amid the ongoing Covid disruption.

The message appears to make it clear that, barring a significant worsening of the pandemic in the coming months, the 2022 SQA national examinations will likely continue this year, for the first time since 2019.

The statement comes after Education Secretary Shirley Ann Somerville said over the weekend that the final decision on whether the 2022 SQA exams will take place until late March.

Here are some basic messages in the SQA character:

SQA exams

The “clear intent to conduct the 2022 SQA exams” remains. It will only be canceled “if public health advice restricts physical gatherings at exam time”.

The Higher Education Quality Authority adds that “clear contingency procedures and plans to deal with the type of disruption we are currently experiencing, have been in place since the beginning of the 2021-22 session.”

On clarifying whether exams will go ahead, the SQA says: “Obviously this decision can only be taken sooner when the public health situation is clear, but the Scottish government has indicated that this will be the end of March at the latest.”

SQA also makes clear that the timing of exams will not change to give schools, colleges and students time to make up for whether they have been hit hard by disease or Covid isolation measures. She says, “The timing of exams cannot be changed for a variety of reasons, including to allow sufficient time to correct and inform learners of their results in time to make decisions about their next steps.”

SQA says that modifications to exam papers are also not an option.

If the tests are cancelled, SQA advises schools and colleges that “the evidence they gather through normal general assessment to determine learners’ grades can be used to form the basis of their provisional results.” For more details on what this means, SQA recommends looking at the Updated Estimates Guidelines, which can be read here.

Revision support for students

The Environmental Quality Authority (SQA) is actively monitoring levels of disruption across the country, including levels of learner and staff absenteeism, adding: “If significant levels of disruption persist, we will soon move to what was referred to in previous communications as ‘Scenario 2’, This means supporting learners with their final review in the lead up to exams.”

This might mean, for example, guidance on specific topics “to help learners maximize performance on the exam and reduce exam stress,” but “there will be no other changes to courses or course assessments, in addition to those already in place.”

If SQA moves to Scenario 2, “revision support will be released in March for most courses, to allow as much time as possible for learning and teaching”. Students will be given their support materials at this time to “help review them before the Easter holiday”.

SQA says: “It is important not to provide this information too early to avoid narrowing down of learning and teaching which will negatively impact learners’ breadth of knowledge of the course. [and] understanding and the next steps in their learning.”

Regarding advice to schools and colleges that have been “affected by a large number of staff and/or student isolation,” the SQA says: “It is important to remember that the significant adjustments already made to courses this year are designed to address the ongoing disruption to learning and teaching.”

Teaching union interacts

In response to the SQA letter, Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the EIS Teaching Consortium, said: “Providing students with guidance information on exam content to aid revision will help with exam performance, but it is neither a substitute nor a solution to disrupting teaching and learning which may mean, in some cases, that Not all courses will be exceeded by May.”

Mr Flanagan added: “Councils and agencies such as Education Scotland need to address the ongoing disruption that students are now experiencing. By April, measures and resources will be needed to ensure that all students have equitable access to review support. And it’s not just those whose parents can afford additional tuition or SQA guidelines can actually widen the equality gap.”

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