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Unions and parent groups offer mixed reaction to cancellation of National 5 exams

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of EIS welcomed the announcement.
Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of EIS welcomed the announcement.

There has been mixed reaction from unions and parents groups to the news that next year’s National 5 exams have been scrapped.

In an address to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Education Secretary John Swinney confirmed that the National 5 qualifications exams would would not go ahead due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision, which will affect around 80,000 pupils across Scotland, means that the results will instead be based on coursework and teacher assessments.

The Higher and Advanced Higher exams are still expected to take place “as long as public health guidance allows it”.

“Parents will be furious”

Jo Bisset, organiser for parent group UsForThem Scotland, was highly critical of the decision – one which she believes will have a “significant impact” on pupils.

In a statement she said: “Parents will be furious at this move which is going to have a significant impact on tens of thousands of children.

“They will not accept the excuses given by the Scottish Government, who will have had 14 months to get these exams to go ahead by the time May comes along.

“It’s all very well saying Highers and Advanced Highers will still go ahead, but that’s no good to pupils who leave school after National 5s.

“These are often youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds who were already facing a tough future in this economic climate.

“Now they will be hampered even further by not sitting what would have been a final exam.”

Johannah Bisset, UsForThem Scotland organiser.

Ms Bisset added: “This just isn’t good enough – the Scottish Government keeps saying schools should run as normal, but an academic year without any exams at the end of it is nothing like normality.

“Yet again, youngsters are paying the price more heavily when they should be counting on the Government to have their back.

“Parents will also be suspicious at the timing of this, concerned that it’s been announced on a day when it will be buried behind other significant pieces of bad news.”

“It is wholly sensible and appropriate to plan”

However Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) welcomed the clarity that came with Swinney’s announcement but warned that lessons should be learned from this year’s results u-turn.

General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Teachers and pupils are already working towards next year’s award, so today’s announcement provides welcome – if overdue – clarity for schools.

“It is wholly sensible and appropriate to plan on the assumption of some level of disruption, given the current rising level of infection and the prospect of a difficult winter period ahead.”

Larry Flanagan

“The most important consideration is the need to ensure that all students receive appropriate recognition for their achievements, and the EIS is confident that a system based on teacher professional judgement provides a sound basis for the awarding of qualifications.

“It is possible that the collective response to the current challenging circumstances may actually help to pave the way for a better system of senior phase assessment in the future.”

He added: “It is also important that lessons are learned from the qualifications experience this year, and that there is no suggestion that teachers’ professional judgements of student achievement will be overturned by the SQA, or its algorithms, and equally that procedures are put in place to control teacher workload – this cannot be a situation, especially as schools and colleges are grappling with the challenges of Covid, where excessive additional workload is heaped onto teachers or students by the SQA.”

Exams recap: Why were pupils’ results downgraded and will exams go ahead in 2021?

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