SQA Decision to Remove Modifications - EIS View

Created on: 24 Apr 2023 | Last modified: 10 May 2023

The SQA recently announced its decision to remove modifications for some SQA courses in 2023/24.

This decision has provoked some strong responses from Secondary members, particularly those teaching Science, Social Subjects and Music, who have specific concerns about the validity of aspects of coursework.

Discussions about the removal of modifications took place as part of the work of the National Qualifications Working and Strategic Groups, on which the EIS sits. These groups have been in operation since 2020 and were formed as part of the emergency response to COVID. Their remit is strictly confined to COVID contingency arrangements and does not extend beyond this to reform of qualifications more generally.

The Hayward Review is taking this forward although it does not have the reform of individual qualifications in scope.

The terms of reference of the SQA’s consultation relative to Covid contingency arrangements were specifically on the broad question of whether, given the current state of the Covid-19 pandemic and the level of associated risks to course assessment, SQA courses should revert as planned in their entirety to the 2019 position, thereby bringing Scotland into line with the rest of the UK, which dispensed wholly with modifications last year.

This was responding to a concern that Scottish qualifications are at risk of being devalued in relation to those obtained in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

To inform our contributions to these discussions, we consulted members through our Subject Specialist Networks, to ascertain what members considered to be the pertinent issues and the strength of feeling on key points.

The Subject Specialist Networks are groups of EIS Secondary members who provide subject specialist advice and feedback to the EIS on subject specific matters relating to learning, teaching and assessment.

In November 2022, we wrote out to all Secondary members, all Secondary Council members and existing members of subject networks seeking new involvement. We received a very good response, with almost 500 members signing up to assist.

Those members provided valuable feedback on the broad questions being put to the NQ 23 Groups from subject specialist perspectives. It was clear from those responses that there was a mix of views within and between subjects, with no uniform position emerging.

In light of this, the EIS shared nuanced feedback that decisions regarding the removal of contingency arrangements needed to be taken based on a full evaluation of the impact of modifications in each subject area, on a course-by-course basis, and that modifications should be retained where there is evidence that they are effective in the interests of learning and teaching, and of equity.

The EIS made it clear to all parties represented on the Groups that there are associated workload impacts in making changes to course assessment, and should it be decided that elements were to be reinstated, time and resources must be made available within schools to ensure learners are not disadvantaged and teacher workload not increased. 

SQA ultimately makes the decisions, has conveyed its reasoning based on its own assessment of this feedback, and that taken from teachers, learners, SQA marking teams and assessors.

The EIS will continue to support members in relation to SQA-related workload and continues to advise the use of Working Time Agreements and associated guidance as key tools of workload control.

Whilst we are sharing members’ subject-specific feedback in relation to the removal of modifications directly with the SQA, the vehicle, through which the legitimate concerns raised about course assessment will be addressed, is Education Reform – rather than the NQ Groups which have had a sole focus on COVID contingency measures, and which have now been stood down.

Looking to the conclusion of the Hayward Review, the creation of the new qualifications agency and beyond, we are determined that there must be opportunity for the profession to help shape course content and associated assessment in a much more meaningful way than has occurred over the past decade.

We continue to exert influence in all aspects of Education Reform, especially that relating to the senior phase, and have made specific reference, in our response to the Hayward consultation, to the importance of incorporating the views of subject practitioners in the review of course content and assessment as the qualifications evolve.

The EIS will continue in our endeavour to ensure that this objective is achieved.