The NASUWT recognise that teachers are struggling to manage the demands being placed on them from the system for determining pupils’ National and Higher grades this year and are calling for additional support and resources to be provided as a matter of urgency.

The Alternative Certification Model has effectively transferred the workload of the SQA to teachers and is driving up stress, anxiety and burnout among the profession.

At the NASUWT Scotland Annual Conference 2021, the Union called for the Scottish Government and local authorities to provide additional immediate support to teachers to help them manage the demands, including through the provision of additional supply teachers for schools and extra in-service days. The NASUWT is also calling for a formal review to be undertaken of the approach to qualifications in 2021.

While there is a significant variation in practices across Scottish schools, the NASUWT has been strongly advocating against any move to progress with normal timetable changes in secondary schools: a ‘business as usual’ approach is not appropriate.

The Union has been clear that it expects schools and local authorities to protect teachers from pressure to change the provisional grades and, further, that guidance should make it clear that the professional judgement of the teacher should not be questioned at this stage.

There would, of course, need to be arrangements for candidates to have a right of redress in cases where there have been genuine errors in awarding. However, this process needs to be undertaken external to the centre and the candidate must set out credible grounds for appeal before it can proceed: this has been argued and secured in each of the other UK jurisdictions.

The NASUWT has communicated with the SQA its expectation that, as a regulator, the SQA should deter negative and inappropriate behaviours from parents/pupils and, further, that it is incumbent upon the Scottish Government and other national bodies such as the SQA to take responsibility and provide clearer explanations to local authorities and teachers.

Sadly, a lack of central clarity around issuing feedback has raised concerns in the profession regarding both security and potential malpractice.

Teachers are uncertain whether they should be sharing interim marks with students, as they complete each section of the SQA-provided assessment, if they have split a paper as per SQA guidance.

There is considerable variation on the ground in terms of sharing marks with students who have completed an initial assessment window and an absence of clear advice on whether teachers should or should not refrain from reviewing the assessment paper with the student as part of the feedback process.

Teachers are navigating new processes, under extreme pressure, and a lack of precision in the information provided centrally leaves already fraught teachers stressed and anxious in case they are inadvertently leaving themselves open to accusations of malpractice.

Should teachers share the final grades with pupils before submission to SQA?

In the SQA guidance Alternative certification model - National Qualifications 2021, under stage 3 ‘role of a teacher’, it states: ‘provide ongoing feedback to learners regarding their progress and assessments, including, at the conclusion of the course, provisional grades based on evidence of demonstrated attainment.’

To provide a UK-wide comparison, this is also the arrangement in Wales, although in Wales there is the subsequent option of an external independent appeal and in England, teachers are required to share the evidence that has been used with the candidate but not the grade.

The NASUWT would advise teachers to protect themselves by making sure that they can point to the evidence that has been used and the basis on which the grades have been awarded.

Teachers should also ensure that whatever practice they are carrying out, this has been directed by their employer, preferably in writing.

  • If implementing authority-wide guidance, this should be the teacher’s reference point.

  • If it is school-level direction, members can seek written confirmation from their line manager that, as a record of the process being undertaken, it is consistent and appropriate.

If you have concerns regarding local procedures, please contact your School Rep, Local Association Secretary or the Scotland Centre for further support or advice.

Alternative Certification Model appeal deadlines

Following representations by the NASUWT that the information the SQA issued in relation to the appeals process was very brief, further guidance was published on Friday 11 June.

The Union has been calling for explicit confirmation from the SQA that there was no expectation of teachers being available during the summer holidays to engage with the process. The NASUWT is opposed to any proposal for the handling of appeals which would require teachers to be involved in managing the appeals process during the summer.

The SQA has acknowledged that the timelines for priority appeals requests are tight and has pointed to the need to meet deadlines for the UCAS turnaround of conditional offers for progression into higher education. However, it has confirmed that the deadline for receiving priority requests has been revised from 16 to 24 August, meaning there will be no requirement for teachers and lecturers to handle appeals requests until after they return from the summer holiday.

This shift in the priority request deadline followed robust NASUWT representations, in which the Union successfully secured guidance which avoids any attempt to bring teachers in over the holiday.

It is understood that further operational guidance is being collated within the SQA, which will be published and issued to centres before Tuesday 10 August 2021. This guidance will include detailed instructions on how to use the appeals system, submit learner evidence and confirm any subject-specific requirements for non-standard subjects.

The NASUWT will continue to campaign for a formal review of the whole approach to National Qualifications in 2021 and, where necessary, key decision-makers to be held to account, and a commitment to genuine consultation and engagement with the NASUWT and its members in future.

Historical data and quality assurance

The Union has raised with the SQA the lack of clarity in relation to the locus of local authorities in analysing trends and looking at patterns which are inconsistent with previous data and thereafter amending grades.

The National Review of Local Authority Approaches to Quality Assurance (pdf), as part of the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) published on 2 June, highlighted:

‘Most local authorities have developed bespoke data analysis tools to support school level quality assurance. These provide key attainment information in an easily accessible format that will allow staff to analyse provisional results against three-year or five-year trends from historical data. Local authority officers expect staff to use these tools to review concordance data, including young people’s prior attainment, and identify and address any unexpected provisional grades. Local authority officers plan to analyse trends to discuss this year’s provisional results with headteachers, with a particular focus on verifying the data and identifying and challenging results or attainment patterns which appear anomalous. This includes consideration of historic patterns and trends of attainment when compared to this academic session’s provisional results, at individual, departmental and school-level. Positively, local authorities continue to provide professional learning for staff at all levels in data analysis and in the use of senior phase data from the national ‘Insight’ resource.’

The Union has been clear, both in writing and in meetings with the SQA, that the consequences of failing to communicate in sufficient detail with teachers around the ACM can have grave consequences for them individually and professionally. Furthermore, where there is a lack of detail or confusion, a myriad of different approaches are adopted, which undermines the ‘national’ part of the national qualifications process.

The SQA, in response, has confirmed that: ‘Whilst data can be helpful in helping a local authority, school or department to determine what they may wish to consider for quality assurance, decisions about what grades to award must be based on the teacher’s professional judgement of a learner’s demonstrated attainment. So for example, if a department is delivering for the first time, if there has been a change in staff, or if it is a single teacher department, a school may wish to ensure that their approach to quality assurance samples learner evidence in these scenarios. There has been no change from this position in terms of using data and it remains the case that grades are awarded on the basis of learner evidence.’

It is abundantly clear from the current mess created by the Scottish Government and the SQA over the arrangements for the awarding of qualifications this summer that reform is needed. Teachers have lost confidence in both the SQA and Education Scotland and an overhaul of systems and structures is now needed in the best interests of schools, teachers and pupils.

The Union will continue to press the Government to ensure these reforms are not a cosmetic exercise. The NASUWT has already warned that a growing over-emphasis on assessment and bureaucracy is disempowering teachers, damaging their morale and undermining their ability to meet the needs of their pupils.

Links for further information and guidance

Evidence to the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee - Support for Education Learning and Assessment
NASUWT press release: Schools need immediate support to deal with the impact of grading