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Exams: Scottish Higher and Advanced Highers cancelled for 2021, John Swinney confirms

Education Secretary John Swinney.
Education Secretary John Swinney.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled in 2021, Education Secretary John Swinney has announced.

The decision was taken amid concerns that many pupils would be disadvantaged as a result of having to self-isolate due to Covid-19.

Pupils will be awarded grades based on teacher judgements and coursework estimations of learners’ attainment.

The 2020 exam diet was called off earlier this year as a result of the pandemic and Mr Swinney had already confirmed National 5 exams would not go ahead next year.

He told Holyrood: “Pupils have lost significant learning time. First they lost significant learning time at the end of last year – time when they normally start to study for the following year’s qualifications.

“That has now been compounded by the disruption many have suffered as they were obliged to self-isolate, had to learn from home or even saw their school closed.

“While we hope that public health will improve in the coming months, we cannot guarantee that there will be no further disruption to pupils’ learning.

“In light of this, the question is less whether we can hold exams safely in the spring and more whether we can do so fairly.

“There is no getting around the fact that a significant percentage of our poorest pupils have lost significantly more teaching time than other pupils.”

He added: “I am therefore announcing today that there will be no Higher or Advanced Higher exams in 2021.

“Instead, we will adopt a new model that has been developed and base awards on teacher judgement of evidence on learner attainment.

“This is safe, it is fair and it better recognises the reality of the disruption so many pupils have had to their learning in the course of the last few months.”

The Deputy First Minister had been under increased pressure from opposition leaders and teaching unions to confirm whether the exam diet would go ahead in the spring.

Approximately 125,000 grades based on teacher estimates were downgraded in August, based on a statistical method used by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The Scottish Government subsequently announced a ‘u-turn’ and reinstated grades for all affected pupils.

Mr Swinney also announced a one-off payment for teachers involved in marking exams this year.

English pupils will sit exams as normal in May, the UK Government confirmed, however, the exam diet has been cancelled for pupils in Wales.

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