Assessment Arrangements in National Qualifications: Guide for parents and carers

This blog outlines how adjustments can be made to ensure disabled learners and/or those with additional support needs have an equal opportunity to access assessments.

1 September 2023 - annemacleod - Categories: Awarding 2023 Programme, Parents

National Qualifications

We recognise that disabled learners and/or those with additional support needs might need support in an exam or other form of assessment. There are many reasons why they might need support — it could be because of a physical difficulty (including medical or sensory difficulty), a behavioural or mental health difficulty, or a learning difficulty.  

We can make adjustments to provide these learners with an equal opportunity to access the assessment, so they can demonstrate what they know and can do. We call these adjustments ‘assessment arrangements’. We do not need learners to have been formally diagnosed by a medical professional as having a disability for assessment arrangements to be put in place. 

The specific needs of the learner are used to consider which assessment arrangements can be put in place for them. These arrangements can be different for different learners, even if they have the same diagnosis. There may be some learners who have a diagnosis but do not require any support at all. This is why we provide information and guidance to our schools, colleges and training providers and ask them to work from the individual needs of each learner, rather than from a list of assessment arrangements according to their disability or additional support need. 

Arrangements in teaching and learning

Decisions about assessment arrangements are not just based on the nature of a learner’s difficulty or condition, but also on how they learn, and what effect these arrangements have on their ability to demonstrate what they have learned. We do not specify what types of evidence should be collected, but the school, college or training provider should have records of the impact of the learner’s difficulty in a teaching and learning environment. 

We would expect that the assessment arrangements provided to a learner in coursework or an exam marked by us should reflect, as much as possible, the support they are given in a teaching and learning setting. Learners should have been given sufficient time to practise and be familiar with using the assessment arrangement, so they are not disadvantaged in coursework, assessment or SQA exam. 

For example, if a learner uses ICT with text reader software regularly in class to overcome specific reading difficulties, this would most likely be the assessment arrangement provided in the assessment. 

How arrangements work 

It is important to remember that providing assessment arrangements allows the learner to access the assessment. It is not possible to change how the learner is being assessed, the competences they are assessed on, or the marking criteria — to do this would undermine the integrity of our assessment or the credibility of our award. We need to be sure that everyone, including parents/carers, learners, higher and further education institutions and employers, can be confident that the qualification awarded to a learner is a reliable indication of their knowledge, skills, understanding and competence.

Choosing the most appropriate arrangements

The arrangements used for each subject and level may differ, depending on the assessment, and on the skills, knowledge and understanding being assessed. We ask schools, colleges and training providers to consider the learner’s needs against the type of assessment to agree what the most appropriate assessment arrangements for each subject and level are. 

For example, someone with significant writing difficulties might not be impacted in the multiple-choice question paper in the National 5 Chemistry in the same way they might be when writing an essay in the National 5 History exam. 

SQA’s responsibilities in assessment arrangement

SQA and schools, colleges and training providers have critical roles in ensuring that the provision of assessment arrangements operates fairly and with integrity for everyone. We work together to provide learners with assessment arrangements and we each have clear areas of responsibility. 

The Equality Act (2010) ensures that people with protected characteristics are not subjected to discrimination or unfair treatment. The Act specifies instances in which we should not make reasonable adjustments for our qualifications. This is important to allow us to maintain a national standard against which to measure the competence of all learners who are awarded the same qualification. 

To ensure consistency, we visit a sample of schools, colleges and training providers each year and audit their assessment arrangements processes to check that they are operating an effective internal quality assurance system. We also provide in-depth guidance and support to teachers and lecturers to help with the fair operation of the system. 

What to do if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s need for assessment arrangements

As we do not know individual learners or how they access teaching and learning, we rely on schools, colleges and training providers to determine which learners need assessment arrangements and what these should be. 

If your child has specific needs to be considered when carrying out assessments, please discuss which assessment arrangements can be put in place for them with their teacher, lecturer or training practitioner. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, if appropriate, you should contact the local authority education department that is responsible for handling any concerns or complaints in your area. 

If you have discussed the matter with your child’s school, college or training provider and/or local authority and you are not getting a satisfactory response, you can contact us. It is important to clarify that this does not mean we will necessarily step in if you disagree with their response. We will consider the full details of the concern before we decide whether further investigation is needed. If we decide to investigate the concern, we will need the name of the school, college or training provider concerned and your child’s permission to contact them to discuss your child’s teaching and learning needs. 

Further information

You can find more details about the types of assessment arrangements that are available in our learner guidance. Enquire and Reach also provide information that you might find helpful. 

Further information including past digital papers can be found on the Assessment Arrangements section of our website. 

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