Fiona Robertson: ‘Alternative certification was best solution’

Results Day, when learners receive their certificates and find out their grades, is always a significant and important annual date in the calendar.

This year is very different for lots of reasons, not least because teacher judgement has replaced exams and because learners already know their grades after receiving provisional results before the end of term.

The 2021 approach to assessment – the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) as it is formally known – has not been without its critics. Perhaps that was inevitable given the need to agree and build a new model at pace, but it was the best possible solution in the exceptional circumstances we faced and I have yet to hear a credible alternative put forward.

As we now approach Results Day 2021 tomorrow, it is time to put those criticisms aside and to focus on paying tribute to the tremendous efforts made by Scotland’s young people in what has been a very difficult and challenging time for many. Their hard work and dedication speak volumes about their resilience and flexibility. They can be proud of what they have achieved.

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It’s also important to recognise the tireless professionalism and commitment of Scotland’s teachers, lecturers and support staff who have gone the extra mile to do their utmost for their learners, whom they know best. And of course parents and carers deserve our thanks for supporting and encouraging young people through these extraordinary times.

Following the cancellation of exams by the Deputy First Minister, the education sector came together last autumn to form the National Qualifications 2021 Group, which was tasked with developing and implementing an alternative.

HeraldScotland: SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson has paid tribute to Scotland's pupils.SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson has paid tribute to Scotland’s pupils.

There was no ‘off the shelf’ solution but we quickly agreed that the ACM had to have evidence of learners’ learning and skills at its heart. And so provisional results, decided by teachers and lecturers using assessments completed by learners that followed the national standard set by SQA, were used to award this year’s National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher courses. Those provisional results are the same as the final results learners will receive tomorrow unless, in very exceptional circumstances, SQA discovered an administrative error.

As we all know, through this year there have been further restrictions and lockdowns and together with teachers, lecturers, learners, parents and carers, the ACM had to quickly adapt.

Ways in which the model adapted include the in-built flexibility around when and how schools and colleges assessed learners so that they had the best chance to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. The timeline for submission of provisional results was also extended – to the last day of term – to provide as much time as possible, and a late certification opportunity has been available for learners who, through no fault of their own, have been unduly disadvantaged.

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Throughout this process, we have had learners’ interests and wellbeing right at the heart of our thinking. The model has ensured the results that will drop through letterboxes tomorrow are credible and fair, and have the same currency and value as those awarded in previous years.

A big congratulations to each and every learner getting their certificate tomorrow. You have achieved so much.

Fiona Robertson is SQA Chief Executive and Scotland’s Chief Examining Officer

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992