Scotland, traditionally, has high levels of confidence in teachers. Fairness and justice are key concepts in policy and practice in Scottish education. For more than 100 years, the high-stakes assessment system in Scotland, with the Scottish Higher qualification at its heart, has been crucial to that sense of opportunity and justice. However, in 2019–2020, public confidence in high-stakes assessment in Scotland, as in other United Kingdom countries, was dented. In Scotland, the Covid-19 pandemic meant that schools were closed, teachers provided online learning opportunities for pupils working at home and, for the first time in 130 years, it was not possible to run national examinations. To ensure that learners were not further disadvantaged, alternative approaches to gathering evidence for qualifications were instigated. However, these results were challenged as socially unjust and the results that had been nationally moderated were replaced by results based on locally moderated teachers' professional judgement. As Scotland looks to qualifications beyond Covid-19, trust must be re-built. This article reports on a participative research project that sought to understand public perceptions of standards and fairness across a range of key communities following this experience. Drawing on both qualitative and quantitative data, we analyse factors which affected trust in National Qualifications under the pandemic. The evidence suggests that when considering what matters for qualifications to be trusted, technocratic solutions are likely to be rejected by stakeholders. Understanding and responding to what led to the mistrust of qualifications in Scotland will be crucial to inform its future qualifications system.


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Cite as

Hayward, L., Baird, J., Allan, S., Godfrey‐Faussett, T., Hutchinson, C., MacIntosh, E., Randhawa, A., Spencer, E. & Wiseman-Orr, M. 2023, 'National qualifications in Scotland: a lightning rod for public concern about equity during the pandemic', European Journal of Education, 58(1), pp. 83-97. https://doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12543

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Last updated: 26 May 2023
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