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Assessments into the Future

SQA Assessment Arrangements and Assistive Technology following Covid-19

Covid-19 has clearly had a huge impact upon education in general and on senior phase assessment, to the extent that Scottish Government announced a review by Professor Ken Muir that

will include likely replacement of the SQA with a new curriculum and assessment agency.


This followed in part from the OECD report published in June 2021 which suggested Scotland could "consider adapting the pedagogical and assessment practices and the structure of learning pathways in the Senior Phase to enhance learners’ experience of upper-secondary education and help them develop CfE’s four capacities continuously" followed by the OECD report on National qualifications and assessments in August 2021 from Professor Gordon Stobart. In response, Scottish Government notes that possible options include:

  • "the development of a Senior Phase qualification system based on a combination of teacher assessment and exams 
  • the simplification of S4-5 assessment by “de-cluttering” the historical diet of exams
  • the increased use of online exam resources and oral presentations as an assessment format
  • the inclusion of pupils views in decisions around assessment
  • enhancing the role of vocational qualifications."

It is essential that accessibility and the needs of learners with disabilities or additional support needs are taken into account when considering greater use of internal assessment by teachers and of online assessments.

In December 2020 CALL Scotland was asked to undertake environmental scanning (Albright, 2004[1]) into the use of assistive and inclusive technologies by learners who require Assessment Arrangements during the 2020-21 academic session, in the context of changes to assessment of National Qualifications due to the Covid-19 pandemic and response.

A report was submitted to SQA in January 2021 and we were asked to continue research and update the paper to take account of developments throughout the remainder of the 2020-21 academic session. A report was delivered to SQA on 6th August 2021 and revised for publication for wider discussion for stakeholders in October 2021.  The full report is available from SQA Assessment Arrangements and Assistive Technology following Covid-1 and the report and summary below are relevant to the national discussion around the purpose and format of assessment at senior phase.

The issues discussed in the paper are drawn from a range of sources: desk-based research around guidance and publications from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scottish Government and Education Scotland; video meetings with practitioners in schools and local authorities; and research into and testing of specific technologies. These meetings involved a relatively small number of colleagues and so are indicative: more research is required to understand how the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) was implemented for learners who required technology-based Assessment Arrangements in 2020-21.

Our key findings are:

  • The ACM resulted in a significant increase in the number of individual assessments conducted which increased workload and complexity for provision of Assessment Arrangements for students with disabilities or additional support needs.  
  • The Covid-19 pandemic and response has driven an increase in the use of digital technology for teaching, learning and assessment. Students in several local authorities have been provided with personal digital devices and Scottish Government has committed that every pupil in Scotland will receive a digital device.
  • Students are using devices based on Windows and iOS and Chromebooks and guidance and policies on technology-based assessment arrangements should reflect this context.
  • The research suggests that SQA Digital Question Papers in PDF (particularly question-and-answer papers) were not commonly used by candidates using iPads or Chromebooks in 2020-21 due to technical, administrative and policy-related factors. Action research with practitioners and students is required to investigate and address these issues.
  • The research indicates that Digital Answer Booklets in .docx format are not accessible to students using Chromebooks or word processor tools such as Immersive Reader in Microsoft Word. DABs should be re-designed accordingly.
  • The functionality, accessibility and security of Digital Question Papers and Answer Booklets varies depending on the device and software/app used by students.
  • SQA policies on assessment arrangements and internet access and use of accessibility and learning tools (e.g. spellcheck) do not align with current technologies and practices in schools and should be reviewed and developed in co-operation with practitioners.
  • DQPs and DABs in PDF have functional and accessibility limitations and consideration should be given to creating assessments in other digital formats.
  • Comprehensive research into the Assessment Arrangements that were provided for students as part of the Alternative Certification Model in 2021 would provide valuable information to inform the development of policy and guidance on assessment arrangements, the use of technology, and Digital Question Papers and Answer Booklets. 

The full report is available from SQA Assessment Arrangements and Assistive Technology following Covid-1.

[1] Albright, K. (2004) Environmental Scanning: Radar for Success. The Information Management Journal, May/June 2004.