Context and EIS position re the ACM

Created on: 17 May 2021 | Last modified: 17 May 2021

The General Secretary and Assistant Secretary Bradley represent the EIS on the NQ21 Steering Group and the NQ21 Working Group respectively.  

Aimed to ensure that the ACM would:

  • enable the prioritisation of learning, teaching and sound assessment
  • would be deliverable in a way that takes account of the workload and wellbeing of teachers and the needs of learners- both in terms of their learning and mental health and wellbeing

The ACM is now being delivered in even more challenging circumstances within a very truncated time window- it was originally designed to be in operation from January 2021.

EIS had suggested various other alternatives over the past months, each of which was rejected:

  • When the N5 exams were cancelled we suggested that assessments could be conducted internally and marked externally by SQA colleagues.

  • When the Higher exams were cancelled, we suggested certification of S5 and S6 candidates only or even that certification of S4 be delayed until the autumn.

  • We also suggested that the national sampling exercise that’s just beginning could focus on Higher and Advanced Higher only.

Therefore it has remained for us to try to work with colleagues across SQA, ADES, Colleges and Scottish Government, and on the Steering Group with parents and young people, and to try to shape the ACM as best we can in the interests of good learning, teaching and sound assessment, with teacher workload and wellbeing in mind.

We repeatedly pushed for additional time to be given over to the ACM at school level and eventually the two additional inset days were granted by the Scottish Government. We also pushed for the reprioritisation of the other remaining inset days so that time could be secured for local moderation activity.

We’ve aimed to have as much support channelled towards teachers as possible and as many additional demands resisted.

A Collegiate Approach

It’s also important to say that the alternative certification model was designed on the basis that all of the education system would be working together and in support of the schools, colleges and teachers who’re working directly with the young people who’re trying to complete their qualifications in spite of the disruption.

At local level, teachers and lecturers should expect the full support of senior colleagues in school and college. And in turn, Headteachers and Department Heads should expect full support from the local authority or the college management as they endeavour to do all that they can to support young people in S4, S5 and S6 and in FE at this time.


The EIS has been clear that delivering the ACM is the key priority for Secondary schools this term, and college departments that are delivering N5, Higher and Advanced Higher. Other priorities which don’t contribute to the safe delivery of the ACM need to be stood down or additional resources made available so that they can be overtaken.  

Teachers cannot and should not be asked to deliver what is required by way of marking, moderation and the associated record-keeping for the ACM, and everything else that they otherwise might have been doing within a normal academic year.

So in schools for example, supply cover should be being brought in to decrease class contact time with BGE learners for the teachers who’re in the thick of delivering the ACM. Or a timetable change that doesn’t absolutely need to happen this side of the summer holidays held over until August. Or administrative duties that are non-essential could be set aside or passed to admin staff where possible.

One of the areas that we’re on the case of currently is S3 SNSAs and collection of CfE levels data. We think it’s absurd that the Scottish government would expect schools and especially Secondary Schools to be prioritising these things at this time and recently wrote to the Deputy First Minister urging a rethink.

We’ve repeatedly said within the NQ Groups that the time lost to the latest lockdown has really put the safe delivery of the ACM on a knife edge. Expecting teachers to deliver it and to carry on with everything else regardless isn’t acceptable.

From an EIS perspective, as with all workload, the work associated with the ACM must be deliverable within the parameters of the 35-hour working week. Where teachers are fearful that workload will be unmanageable or if they’re already struggling with it, then a workload audit should be done.

It’s helpful to do a workload audit working with others in the department. Make a quick note of everything that’s to be done for the ACM and any other tasks that you’re asked to carry out. Estimate the number of hours required.

Where the number of hours of class contact time plus time for preparation and marking plus collective activity time is more than 35, then there needs to be a conversation with your line manager around workload alleviation.

This might involve some adjustment of Working Time Agreements. Or possibly class contact time relief, depending on the roles of individual teachers in delivering NQ courses and the ACM. If these conversations don’t resolve the issue then speak to your rep or the local association or branch secretary who’ll be able to support you.  

£400 Payment

For some EIS members, cancellation of exams led to concerns about additional unpaid marking and associated moderation for them. Lots of the emails we received around that point were about payment for undertaking the assessment burden that would normally have sat with the SQA.

On behalf of those members, the question was repeatedly raised with SQA and Scottish Government with the outcome that the Scottish Government agreed to make a £400 payment to teachers involved in delivering the ACM.

The recent media focus on the payment has perhaps led to some misunderstanding that by accepting this payment, teachers’ contractual terms and conditions relating to working time will be altered. This isn’t the case. The normal mechanisms for the control of workload remain in place.

The First Minister also caused a bit of confusion when she announced in the Parliament that the payment would be made pro rata. That hadn’t been discussed anywhere before she said it and was based on a misunderstanding of how school timetables operate.

We’ve advocated and will continue to advocate that every teacher who’s involved in fully in supporting the ACM will receive the full £400 payment. Only some employment scenarios would justify a pro rata payment such as a 50:50 job share where duties associated with the ACM are shared on that basis.

EIS thinking around key principles of the ACM

Professional judgement- from the outset and after the experiences of last year, we’ve asserted the principles of teacher professional judgement and the professional trust of teachers.

The EIS is clear on its trust of teacher judgement and the need for the system as a whole to share that trust. We see teacher professional judgement supported by collaboration among colleagues, as being central to the ACM process and we envisage a longer term transition to approaches to senior phase assessment that that have teacher professional judgement at the heart.

Moderation- in terms of collaboration, as well as enhancing the strength of these judgements, collaboration around the moderation of assessment provides teachers with a degree of protection from pressure from students and parents or carers in relation to candidate results.

Of course collaboration needs time and schools and local authorities should have been working together to create the time necessary for teachers to undertake the necessary moderation. We know that LNCTs have agreed approaches to local moderation that are proportionate and manageable, and which will maximise us of the additional and remaining inset days for this purpose.

Demonstrated attainment- the EIS has also supported the premise that professional judgements should be based on evidence of demonstrated attainment. Again, this offers a protection to teachers who are making judgements and reflects the views of young people who were aggrieved last session at the use of the algorithm which didn’t take into account the assessment evidence that they themselves had produced, in determining their grades. The fairness principle is also at play here.

Assessment approaches

In terms of how candidate evidence is generated, the EIS has been consistently of the view that schools shouldn’t be running their own high stakes exam diets in lieu of the SQA diet.

The ACM has afforded flexibility to schools in designing their approaches to assessment in the interests of maximising time for learning, teaching and sound assessment, and in the interests of safety, the wellbeing of students, minimising inequity and managing teacher workload.

As you know there’s been some concern which the EIS shares that the scheduling of exam diets undermines this to a fair extent, especially when they’re being run early this term when really we should be seeing continuing support for young people around wellbeing and consolidation of their learning. We would like to have seen assessment take pace as late in the term as possible.

It was for this reason that we pushed for an extended the deadline for submission of Provisional Results in order that young people would have the best chance to succeed in spite of the difficult circumstances of this academic year.

Contingencies for incomplete evidence

Latterly in the NQ Group discussions, the focus has been on extreme disruption to learning. Some of our members have been very concerned about the disproportionate impact of Covid disruption on certain groups of young people – for example, those who’ve had to self-isolate multiple times or who are off for covid related reasons during this term and who are likely to be missing a piece of the evidence needed to complete - so we’ve been exploring with colleagues on the groups how we might address this.  

One outcome of these discussions has been an enhanced offer from Esgoil where schools can refer young people at risk of non-completion for a bit of extra support either during the school day or after depending on circumstances. Head Teachers have received information about this.

(The Group has now agreed that a further contingency will be a second certification window early in September for learners who have been extremely disrupted and who are unable to complete all of their assessments in time for 25th June, in order that as many young people as possible will be certificated for the work they’ve done this academic session.)