University of Edinburgh

Special Assessment Arrangements

Equality Act and SQA Specifications

Now the equality act also gives the SQA a power to specify (I know the language is a bit complex), we've made specifications on those adjustments that should not be made. Basically there is a clause in the act that allows the SQA to specify adjustments that are not reasonable in particular qualifications

All the new qualifications that were being developed under the curriculum for excellence went through an equality review process. At each stage, as the new qualifications were being developed, those developing the qualifications had to have due regard to the potential barriers within the qualification for any candidate on grounds of any of the protected characteristics. This is not new, we have always taken steps to make our qualifications as accessible as possible, but the act requires the SQA to ensure that qualifications are not unlawfully discriminatory. The act recognises that a qualification is designed to show what a candidate can do, what knowledge and skills they have.

Inevitably there will be some candidates that are unable to demonstrate particular skills and as long as those skills are intrinsically important within that qualification, then there is no duty for SQA to remove that qualification. The qualification is not unlawfully discriminatory. A dance qualification is about physically being able to dance, it is not about choreography or theory of dance, it is a performance qualification. It is about dance.

For every new qualification, those developing had to identify and record potential barriers for candidates on the grounds of any of those characteristics. For example, when we were looking at the qualifications for RMPS (Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies) we were considering issues that might be in there for candidates on the grounds of religion and belief, you are dealing with fairly sensitive issues or when looking at the prescribed Scottish texts in English we were looking at the texts that were chosen could they be potentially discriminatory for any candidate? Detailed consideration was given to that, where we could remove something when we identified a barrier, we did! Where we couldn't remove it, then it was justified because it was important in terms of that qualification.

All the qualifications went through this process, where we identified barriers for candidates who are disabled as part of that process, we thought 'What adjustments could be made to remove the substantial disadvantage?' Where an assessment arrangement normally would remove the disadvantage [for example] the candidate has difficulty with reading in the assessment it is quite okay for the candidate to have ICT support or human reading support. In many of the qualifications - in geography, history, and science we could say that we recognise that some candidates because of their disability, this might be a potential barrier, we can justify it in terms of the qualification, and here are the adjustments that would be acceptable and that's the whole range of assessment arrangements.

Where we felt that in some qualifications there were certain adjustments that would not be acceptable, we identified those issues and we decided, using our powers under the Equality Act to say upfront "Here are some issues which are not acceptable". They are very limited and they are limited to 2 specific qualifications. That doesn't mean to say that everything else is open, that everything else can be allowed but everything else can be considered based on the individual needs of the candidate and on the integrity and public confidence in the qualification.

Where we felt that there was some adjustment we couldn't allow because they fundamentally undermined the qualifications then using our powers we would specify these, but before doing that we would consult with practitioners and stakeholders to get opinion back and then make the decision on what we would specify. So all the specifications that we have published are available at this page on the website ( They are very limited and they are about specific arrangements in specific qualifications and I am going to go through them very quickly with you just now.

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