School exams: SQA boss opens door to remote invigilation


The boss of Scotland’s exams authority has opened the door for schools and colleges to look at remote invigilation as they gather evidence which could help determine pupil grades later this year.

Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive of the SQA, told MSPs that there “may be circumstances” in which such an approach could be considered.

It comes after Seamus Searson, General Secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said he was left “gobsmacked” after learning that one school had asked teachers to observe pupils remotely while they complete work which could count towards their final results.

He described the move as a “recipe for disaster”, highlighting concerns over fairness, practicality and online safety.

 Teachers asked to invigilate pupils online

This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled due to the impact of Covid-19. 

Grades will instead be based on teacher judgement supported by up to four pieces of evidence.

Ms Robertson made the remarks as she responded to a question from Ross Greer, of the Scottish Greens, during this week’s meeting of Holyrood’s education and skills committee.

She said: “I don’t think there’s any suggestion that we’re insisting on remote invigilation as a default.

“The guidance that was produced before Christmas was in relation to qualifications across the system.

“So remote invigilation may be appropriate for some of our training providers who are undertaking some assessments – but there may be circumstances where schools or colleges may wish to consider these approaches.

“Remote invigilation has not been a feature of Scottish education and I think the system is realistic about the opportunities or, indeed, lack of opportunity there.”

SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.

Ms Robertson went on to say it would be crucial to consider how remote assessment of pupils might work now that schools are closed and exams axed.

“Following the cancellation of Higher and Advanced Higher before Christmas, we are looking at what further advice might be helpful – generally helpful – to the system,” she added.

“Because, of course, we’ve moved to remote learning and teaching, it’s really important that we move also to consider the extent of effective remote assessment.

“And there’s actually quite a lot that can be done – a lot of formative assessment that can be done remotely and straightforwardly but… for some subjects and for some assessment approaches that becomes more challenging so we need to continue to have that conversation about what’s possible and what might be more challenging.”  

The National Qualifications Group 2021 has issued an update for learners regarding National 5, Highers, and Advanced Highers in 2021. The statement is availalable via the following link #SQA2021
— MySQA (@mysqa_sam) January 13, 2021

Her comments come after Mr Searson told The : “I know of one school that wants teachers to invigilate pupils as they work at home.

“They want staff to log on to watch pupils and make sure work which is submitted is the pupil’s own work – but that’s a recipe for disaster.

“You don’t know whether someone else is in the room, you don’t know whether that pupil’s work has been changed after the online recording ends. How do you observe 30 pupils at once? And then there are the online safety issues.

“Whoever thought they could ask teachers to sit and observe pupils at home doing work for assessments didn’t have their brain in gear. It left me gobsmacked.” 

 School closures – P1 and P2 pupils among worst affected

Mr Searson has suggested consideration be given to a “holistic school report for each senior pupil that records the subjects they have studied” and a “straightforward teacher assessment” which would be rubberstamped by the SQA.

The exams authority has stressed that the priority for schools during January should be to “maximise teaching and learning time”.

It is due to publish subject-specific guidance on gathering evidence for Highers and Advanced Highers from January 18.


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