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Parents raise concerns over reports that next year’s National 5 exams face cancellation

Education Secretary John Swinney
Education Secretary John Swinney

Parents have warned disruption to next year’s exams will harm children following reports that National 5 tests are to be dropped and Highers scaled back.

Campaigning parents are calling on Education Secretary John Swinney to ensure the qualifications go-ahead amid fears that the pandemic will result in some being cancelled.

Weekend reports suggested Mr Swinney is poised to announce that around 80,000 Nat 5 students will be awarded their certificates based on coursework only in order to avoid the fiasco which plagued this year’s exams.

We cannot afford for children to have their exams disrupted again, and parents want certainty on this matter now. It is completely unfair to leave children, who’ve already endured so much, hanging in this way.”

Jo Bissett of parents’ group UsforThem

It is thought that the Scottish Government proposes that most Highers and Advanced Highers will be held in conventional form, but there are suggestions some may be scaled back.

Mr Swinney is expected to make an announcement on next year’s exam timetable before schools break up in October. But last week he told Holyrood’s Education Committee that there was a “very real risk” that the exam diet would be upset by the coronavirus.

Parents campaign group UsforThem has written to the Education Secretary demanding that the full exam timetable is held next year otherwise children would suffer.

UsforThem organiser Jo Bissett said: “We cannot afford for children to have their exams disrupted again, and parents want certainty on this matter now.

“It is completely unfair to leave children, who’ve already endured so much, hanging in this way.

“UsForThem Scotland would like to see an unequivocal statement from the Scottish Government that the 2021 exams will go ahead as normal, so that pupils can start preparing now for such a crucial juncture in their life. Anything less than that will risk causing even more damage to the future of a generation of pupils.”

This year Mr Swinney was forced to make a humiliating U-turn after thousands of children had their results downgraded during a Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) moderation process, which took into account the previous performance of pupils’ schools.

The about-turn resulted in the cancellation of the downgrade and pupils receiving results in line with their teachers’ predictions. The 2020 exams are currently being reviewed by Professor Jason Priestley of Stirling University on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “Beleaguered teachers are desperately waiting for guidance and direction about what lessons should look like this academic year.

“Even before John Swinney’s screeching u-turn on young people returning to school, or his other on this year’s exam results, his handling of Scottish education was questionable at best.

Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene

“He now needs to urgently clarify how National 5s will instead be assessed if those exams are to be scrapped and how Highers and Advanced Highers will be fairly assessed and graded.

“It remains the view of the Scottish Conservatives that all stops must be pulled out by the SNP to deliver a full exam diet next year where possible.

“If that is not happening, then the onus is firmly on Mr Swinney to explain to parents, pupils and teachers why he can’t achieve that.”

The Scottish Greens, however, argued that exams should be cancelled completely and pupils graded based on their performance during the academic year.

Green education spokesman Ross Greer said: “Highers are a critical qualification for tens of thousands of young people, so leaving even part of those grades up to exams which the Education Secretary cannot guarantee will go ahead is a huge risk.

“John Swinney himself has already acknowledged the huge logistical challenge presented by attempting to run exams, given all pupils must sit the exam at the same time but a maximum of only 50 pupils can be in any exam hall. This doesn’t even take into account the impact of any future local or national lockdowns, the huge workload that preparing for both exams and an alternative contingency would place on teachers or the reality that a month’s learning and teaching time in June has already been lost.

“The only reliable solution is to cancel the 2021 exams now and grade pupils based on their work throughout the year, avoiding both the risk of exams taking place during a pandemic and the chaos of last month’s grading scandal. The Scottish Greens worked hard to secure a fix this year which saw 75,000 pupils’ grades restored, we’d prefer to avoid the need to do so again next August.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our ambition is to run a 2021 examination diet, however there remains a risk of further disruption for learners and schools, or more widely across the country. Any changes to course assessment need to be considered alongside the findings of Professor Priestley’s review of the 2020 exams, which will report at the end of the month. In addition, the SQA and the Education Recovery Group are looking at appropriate contingencies. Deputy First Minister John Swinney will provide clarity on next steps before the October break.”


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