Scottish Government Must Learn From Experiences of Armed Forces Pupils

The Scottish Government, having accepted the recommendations of the recent OECD Review, will launch a process of of consultation with young people, parents and education professionals to consider many important changes to its qualifications and assessment system. 

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure young people, from serving personnel and veteran families, are involved in the consultation to voice concerns about the assessment system as well as amplify a range of unique challenges they face, when it comes to education and learning.

Supported by findings presented by the Young Advisers to Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, many young people from serving personnel and veteran families experienced considerable uncertainty concerning the assessment process and a lack of clarity about which assessments mattered for final grades .

Many young people also experienced an inconsistent approach to communication from both schools and the SQA. In addition, many experienced limited study leave and faced multiple assessments on the same day, all of which led to considerable levels of additional pressure and anxiety.

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust supports children and young people, from serving personnel, reservist and veteran families, overcome unique challenges to education and learning and a number of its beneficiaries have provided candid reflections about their recent assessment experience.

“The assessments added extra stress to what is already an extremely stressful year. I have had up to five exams a week for a full month with very little time in between them. Therefore, I wasn’t able study properly for each exam. 

“Having taken exams before Christmas and achieved A grades, I was told they would be my final exams. That all changed which means the work I’ve put so much effort into throughout the year no longer matters.”


“The assessments were exams, although you couldn’t say exam, and you still processed it like an exam. You still had all the stress but for a longer time period. You had two or three a day sometimes and I frequently missed break because of them running over. 

“It seemed that my teachers were less prepared, or the mistakes that were made wouldn’t have happened ordinarily. It makes me more nervous and it has made this already challenging time even more difficult and the SQA and teachers keep changing their mind. 

My photography folio was meant to be done a certain way but the day before it was due the SQA wanted it done a different way. It was a very confusing time and the relief I felt when I didn’t have to do anymore tests was immense.”


Some Armed Forces young people faced additional challenges to their civilian peers, notably coping with parental deployment. A recent literature review commissioned by RCET highlighted that parental deployment can have an adverse impact which is significantly worse during exam periods.

The negative impact can vary on an individual-to-individual basis, however, it is clear that parental deployments, during a global pandemic as well as assessment anxiety, will have likely exacerbated the aforementioned effects further for many armed forces young people across Scotland.

A Royal Caledonian Education Trust’s beneficiary has shared their experience of the recent assessment period, who also demonstrated incredible resilience despite the additional strain of a parental deployment during that time. 

“I felt more stressed than I ever have felt before being at secondary school. I feel like my year group has had the biggest disadvantage because we didn’t have the opportunity to sit prelims unlike the year ahead of us.

“We were told that we wouldn’t have to sit any exams or assessments last year, which was a hard adjustment, and that every piece of work we submitted had to be 100% which provided a different kind of pressure.  

“Then to be told just before Easter that we would in fact be sitting assessments and without any study leave, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do the best I could. I am seriously worried about both the results and my future.

“My dad is currently deployed to Afghanistan so, worrying and missing him just makes everything all that little more harder. I don’t think anyone who has made these decisions about the assessment has actually asked our opinions.”


With the forthcoming consultation in mind, it is hoped the Scottish Government will provide young people, from serving personnel and veteran families, a platform to share these experiences as well as let decision-makers know about wider challenges experienced, when it comes to education and learning. 

Many Armed Forces young people have experienced significant educational instability, involving multiple school moves resulting in gaps in learning, whilst also coping with the social and emotional challenges of moving schools, parental deployment, and for some, the injury or death of a parent. 

With ongoing concerns around the appeals process, we urgently call on Scotland’s decision-makers to listen to Scotland’s young people. It is their right to be listened to and that right must be made real for all our young people, including those in Armed Forces families, from whom there is much to be learned.