Parent Update 21.06.2021

Parent Update 21.06.2021

Alternative Certification Model

Dear S4-6 Parent/Carer,

It seems appropriate that today is the longest day of the year – the summer solstice. Appropriate because the long days and shorts nights are a reminder that the summer holidays beckon and also appropriate because for our senior pupils (and their parents too) this will feel like a long two days until we are able to release the provisional results to senior phase pupils on Wednesday afternoon.

Prior to that release I felt it right to write to you to outline how the process of determining provisional results has been carried out and to give you some additional information on what to expect on Wednesday.

As you know Firrhill approached the Alternative Certification Model (ACM) firmly from the position of adhering fully to the SQA requirements while using the flexibility allowed to organise the assessments in a way that gave our pupils the best possible chance to demonstrate their attainment. We spread out the assessments to avoid more than one assessment on any single day and, as much as possible, to avoid assessments on consecutive days. By also breaking the assessments into more manageable ‘chunks’ we tried to spread out the revision workload for pupils. Unavoidably, that meant the assessments ran over a longer period than in some schools but, on balance, it seems that this approach has worked well for the vast majority of our S4-6 pupils.

I have been very impressed with how pupils have approached this period of assessment and it is clear that our pupils have taken their revision and preparation seriously. That demonstrates not only their own resilience but also the excellent support they have received both in school and, crucially, at home. There is no doubt this has been a team effort. I have said it before, and will say it again that the Firrhill team is first class.

While the period after Easter clearly enabled teachers to assess pupils against all of the content of a course these were not the only assessments carried out throughout the school year. While the period from January to April provided limited opportunities for assessments under controlled conditions, between August and December 2020 there was the chance to set assessments for pupils, including during our November Assessment Fortnight.

When we consider the assessment evidence we have available we have also to take account of how well an assessment will indicate the likely grade a pupil would achieve under normal circumstances, having completed the entire course. As we have indicated before that means that assessments carried out under exam-style conditions and that cover all of the course content have greater predictive value than earlier assessments, or those that focus on a small part of the course content.

The SQA has advised schools to make holistic judgements based on the ‘basket of evidence’ available for each pupil. That is what we have done at Firrhill and I wanted to explain briefly what that means for each pupil.

As I indicted above we have been collecting evidence of performance throughout the year from a variety of assessments. This range of evidence is the ‘basket of evidence’ referred to by the SQA. Looking at this basket of evidence for each pupil we have come to an overall judgement as to the performance of each pupil in each course – in other words the provisional grade we will submit to SQA by the end of this week and that we will share with pupils on Wednesday.

Coming to that judgement is often straightforward. Many pupils perform at a very consistent level across all their different assessments so their provisional result is relatively obvious and it is clear to everyone why their provisional grade is what it is.For some pupils that judgement is not so obvious. Their performance across the different assessments is variable – some better, some worse. SQA have made it clear that we should not ‘cherry pick’ only the best results from the basket of evidence but rather we should weigh up the evidence taking account of the predictive value of the assessment. As I said above assessments that cover all of the course and are similar to the normal SQA exam carry more weight than an assessment with a narrower focus.

In cases where performances have been more variable teachers have considered the predictive value of each assessment in the basket of evidence for each pupil and, following their SQA subject-specific guidance, have come to a judgement on the provisional result to award.

Throughout all of this decision-making process teachers have worked in collaboration with colleagues here at Firrhill and from other schools to ensure that the standards we are applying in our marking and in determining provisional results were consistent within subjects, across the school and between schools.

SQA have also sampled assessed work from schools and made a determination as to whether the appropriate moderation procedures were being followed and appropriate standards being maintained.

Across the subjects from Firrhill sampled by the SQA we received a number of compliments on our thorough moderation processes, consistent and appropriate application of marking standards and that the local quality assurance procedures were thorough, detailed and highly effective. While not every subject delivered in a school is sampled by the SQA we have adopted a uniform approach across all subjects and at all levels to our moderation and quality assurance processes. Consequently, I have the highest confidence that the decisions that have been reached by teachers are fair, follow the proper procedures and utilise the available evidence taking account of its predictive value.

In planning our communications to you around the release of the provisional grades we realised that while our pupils have a pretty good grasp of what will be in their ‘basket of evidence’, many parents will not. Teenagers are not always the most communicative to their parents so we felt it sensible to try and give parents a sense of the range of evidence that we have in each subject at each level. So, we have pulled that information together in a summary format on the school website. You will find the document at:

From the subjects page you can navigate to individual subject pages by clicking on their name. Each subject gives a list of the range of evidence in the ‘basket’ for that subject.

Remember, the list gives an indication of the paper title but does not give an indication of the weight we would give to that piece of evidence. Not every pupil will have a grade for every piece of evidence listed.

This is why the process I described above, where evidence of different weights has to be balanced against each other, to come up with an overall judgment, has to be gone through for every individual result for every pupil. At Firrhill that is over 2700 provisional grades, each one with multiple pieces of evidence to consider. A major undertaking by any measure.

There is a city-wide approach to the release of provisional grades to pupils. Provisional grades will be emailed to pupils using their school email address beginning after school on Wednesday 23rd June. Parents will receive a text message to confirm that the email has been sent to pupils. We will be sending results to over 500 pupils. That will take us some time to complete. Given that every secondary in the city will also be doing the same please be patient, the email system may run slow. If your child’s results have not arrived by 8pm on Wednesday evening please contact the school admin email address to let us know.The letter, in a standard format, will list the subject and level of the courses being followed by your child and will give the band being submitted to the SQA. For reference the bands equate to the following grades:

Band(s) Grade

1 & 2 A
3 & 4 B
5 & 6 C
7 D
8 & 9 No Award

We wanted to provide you with some additional information to help pupils and parents understand more clearly how the provisional grade was arrived at. A second email will be sent which will contain a listing of the bands achieved in key assessments we have used from the basket of evidence. This will give a listing of up to five bands attained from assessments in the basket of evidence and also the provisional result band being submitted. In most cases the link between the evidence and the submitted grade will be clear. Where it is less clear we will provide some additional clarification. There will be more explanation of this with the additional information.

As you might imagine this has been a long, detailed and demanding process all being delivered while teachers continued to teach a full timetable. Consequently, much of that work has taken place outside of normal working hours and while I have, as much as possible, kept the ‘decks clear’ to maximise time for teachers to do this work every teacher has put in a shift to get this work done to a very high standard. Of course, none of this could or would work without the equally hard work of our non-teaching staff. They too have had a lot of additional work to do to make this system work.

In a large school, like Firrhill, fees for entering pupils for exams add up to many tens of thousands of pounds every year. It has been announced by the Scottish Government that teachers will receive a one-off payment of £400 (before tax etc.) to compensate them for their additional qualification-related work. In many cases this will be for dozens of hours of additional work. Non-teaching staff will receive no payment. I will leave it for others to decide the fairness of those arrangements.

I am sure you will want to join me as I give my unreserved and unqualified thanks to every member of staff at Firrhill for their contributions, in many, many different ways to making this process go so well. Thank you to the many parents who have, in different ways, made their appreciation known to the school and to individual staff.

The last week of term is normally a bit quieter. I think this year may be a bit different, especially for senior pupils and their parents. We will be in contact again on Wednesday with the provisional results and I will write to all parents with my usual end of term letter before Friday.

As always, stay safe and stay well.


Graham Hamilton

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