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‘No detriment on appeals’: call for urgent change to exams certification process

3 June 2021

Children in Scotland is supporting calls for an urgent change to the exams appeals process and highlighting wider failures in engagement with young people following the SQA’s announcement of plans for the alternative certification of results.

The charity’s position is based on the views and evidence of young people it works with and comes ahead of today’s education debate at Holyrood.

Amy Woodhouse, Children in Scotland’s Joint Interim Chief Executive and Head of Policy, Projects & Participation said:

“We have been talking to young people about their exam concerns for over a year now, and unfortunately their message to us, the SQA and to Scottish Government remains largely unchanged.

The decisions made don't seem to reflect their views or needs. They seem unhelpful and confusing and are likely to cause further worry rather than ameliorate young people's concerns.

Amongst many problems apparent with the 2021 assessments and the SQA’s proposals for the Alternative Certification Model is the appeals process. Under the plans, any appeal by a young person carries the risk of their result being downgraded and is therefore a significant disincentive to them.

We believe that there should be a rule of ‘no detriment on appeals’ and that all appeals must be considered on a case by case, individual basis.

We are particularly concerned about the impact this process may have on young people with additional support needs, and we ask Scottish Government what considerations are being given to their needs in this process.

We fully support the position of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. They have identified flaws in the appeals process; the barriers faced by young people with additional needs accessing education over the past year; and notably tokenistic engagement from Scottish Government with young people on the issue of assessments.

We are very concerned that few lessons have been learnt from the 2020 SQA review last year, which we supported young people to take part in. The review recognised the importance of pupil voice, acknowledging that 'pupils need an input into this’ and that teachers and pupils should be consulted because they have 'a lot of good ideas'.

It was clear at this stage that children and young people wanted meaningful dialogue and input into what their experience of assessments in 2021 would be. This has not happened.

Young people on the group that contributed to the review said of the 2020 exam programme that it happened too quickly and was inconsistent: 'They pushed us off a cliff'.

Discussing the lack of communication with them in 2020, they said 'We were never reassured'. It was clear at this stage that children and young people wanted meaningful dialogue and input into what their experience of assessments in 2021 would be.

Our position on this issue is directly informed by the views of young people we have worked with during the pandemic.

Members of our children and young people’s advisory group Changing our World told us that, on this issue they want ‘change, not talk’.

They said they would like to see greater choice over assessments; a more holistic approach; and ‘less stressful’ graded projects throughout the year rather than a rush of intense assessment at the end. They have talked about assessments as being a source of real stress and anxiety.

They also told us that a rights-based approach to education must involve engaging with children and young people in a genuine, not tokenistic way.

Young people participating in the Education Recovery Youth Panel, set up to develop the response of the education system to Covid, also highlighted the need for a more holistic approach, arguing for different models of assessment for different people and the inappropriateness of a ‘one size fits all’ model.

Members of the Inclusion Ambassadors network we work with have raised the issue of problems in engagement with home learning and worries about how this will affect their ability to engage with exams and assessments.

Evidence from the Inclusion Ambassadors and our My Rights My Say service suggests that many young people with additional needs are contending with particular stress and uncertainty in relation to exams and assessments.

In total, this evidence confirms to us what is already recognised: young people’s mental health and wellbeing has been severely affected by the impact of coronavirus over the past year – and their experience of assessments has added a further completely unnecessary layer of stress, anxiety and exhaustion.

The evidence about what young people want is there and clear to see. The SQA and Scottish Government have failed in their responsibility to act on it.”

Inclusion Ambassadors

The group was set up to ensure views of young people with ASN are heard in education discussions

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Changing our World

Our children and young people's advisory group guide our work

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My Rights, My Say

The service can help children exercise their rights to have a say in their education

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Education Recovery Youth Panel

The group is helping to develop the response of the education system to Covid

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Enquire is the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning

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2021-26 Manifesto

Evidence from young people shaped the development of our Manifesto

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Participation through the Pandemic

This peer research project looks at child engagement following Covid's impact

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Radical wellbeing-focused redesign of government budget ‘key to post-Covid renewal’

18 March 2021

A major report published today calls for the Scottish Government to introduce wellbeing budgeting to improve lives for children as part of a radical systems change in the wake of the coronavirus.

The new report, Being Bold: Building Budgets for Children’s Wellbeing, by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance’s Dr Katherine Trebeck, with Amy Baker, was commissioned by national charity Children in Scotland, early years funder Cattanach and the Carnegie UK Trust.

It makes a series of bold calls focused on redirecting finances to tackling root causes of inequality and poverty as Scotland emerges from Covid. Key recommendations include:

  • A post-Covid spending review, with all spend proposals assessed against evidence of impact on children’s wellbeing
  • Training of the civil service to ensure effective budget development and analysis, and moving to multi-year budgeting aligned with wellbeing goals
  • Establishing an independent agency, modeled on the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, to support activity and scrutinise effectiveness of delivery of wellbeing budgeting by the government
  • An overarching change to the ways of working in the Scottish Government budget process to ingrain greater transparency; cross-departmental working; and a participatory approach involving the public and the diversity of children’s voices.

The report argues that the Scottish Government’s stated aims of improving wellbeing across society and addressing the fact that one quarter of children live in relative poverty (click to learn more) cannot be met unless we create conditions for our youngest children to be healthy and supported from the outset.

To do this, it makes the case for directing funds at root causes that diminish child wellbeing, rather than targeting symptoms ‘downstream’, which is inefficient, stifles implementation of policy and legislation, and slows ambitions for societal change.

First steps towards wellbeing budgets would involve holding a conversation with the public about budget-setting to absorb lived experience; interrogating data to ‘map’ the distribution of wellbeing in Scotland; and ensuring policy development was properly connected to evidence on what would actually change outcomes for children and addressing the root causes of what undermines their wellbeing.

The report’s lead author, Dr Katherine Trebeck, said:

“If the Scottish budget is to be a mechanism that brings about change, we need to create a context where children can flourish in Scotland. Then we need to think about a few fundamentals. The budget needs to be holistic, human, outcomes-oriented, and rights-based. It needs to be long-term, upstream, preventative and precautionary. Finally, a bold budget for children’s wellbeing needs to be participatory – children’s voices in all their diversity need to be at the heart of setting the budget agenda.”

Sophie Flemig, Chief Executive of Cattanach, said:

“This report shows why it is necessary to set out a high-level vision for wellbeing outcomes and hardwire it into government processes. Countries need to acknowledge that the economy is in service of wellbeing goals, not a goal in and of itself. Meaningful public involvement is key. Ministerial responsibility for wellbeing outcomes drives progress. And cross-departmental work is essential for success.”

Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy at Carnegie UK Trust, said:

“This project has focused on one important lever of change – the finance system, the way that we think about money and spend in Scotland, asking: what is value for money when we’re talking about our children’s lives? We know it’s not a silver bullet, but we do think it’s important that we consider how we spend that money if we’re going to begin improving outcomes for children and putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to children’s wellbeing.”

As the election campaign approaches, and following Tuesday’s vote to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, the report’s calls and the case for wellbeing budgeting informs Children in Scotland’s manifesto for 2021-26, backed by organisations across the children’s sector.

The report is published as Scotland takes stock of the damage the pandemic has done to individuals, families, communities, and the macroeconomy, and an increasing number of people recognise that we must not revert to pre-Covid ways of working.

Jackie Brock, Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, said:

“Now is the time for us to reset our economy and the way in which we prioritise our budgets. Katherine’s work gives us a real manifesto for how we will secure children’s rights and wellbeing. We call on you to read the report, particularly the section which identifies what the crucial next steps are. We don’t need any more research or evidence – we need to work together to put a budget for Scotland’s children into place, this year, and we look forward to working with you to make that happen.”

Click here to download and read a copy of the report

Media contact: Chris Small


Being Bold: Wellbeing Budgets for Children

The report calls for major systems change in government to support delivery of child wellbeing outcomes

Click here to read the report

Lead author Dr Katherine Trebeck

Dr Trebeck is Advocacy and Influencing lead at the Wellbeing Economy Alliance

Click to learn about the Alliance

Project partner: Sophie Flemig

Sophie is CEO of early years funder Cattanach

Click to learn about Cattanach

Project partner: Jennifer Wallace

Jen Wallace is Head of Policy at the Carnegie UK Trust

Click to learn about the Trust

Project partner: Jackie Brock

Jackie is Chief Executive of Children in Scotland

Click to learn about CiS

A Manifesto for hope in hard times

Wellbeing budgeting for children is identified as a key priority in our 2021-26 Manifesto

Find out more