Education Secretary John Swinney has insisted he is confident there will be no repeat of last year’s exam results fiasco, which saw students take to the streets to protest against the system of awarding grades.
Ministers have cancelled the spring exam diet for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, but Mr Swinney said the authorities have “much more time to prepare” for the situation this time around.
Last year almost 125,000 results were downgraded by the moderation system that had been put in place following the axing of the exams.
The subsequent outcry over the system resulted in a U-turn by the Scottish Government, with pupils eventually awarded the marks originally estimated by their teachers.
Mr Swinney, who apologised to students after the problems experienced in 2020, said last year had seen authorities faced with an “emergency situation”.
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday that an approach has been put in place now which “enables the learning of young people to be properly assessed by teaching staff, reflecting the standards we expect in the qualifications”.
He added education authorities have also allocated more time for information to be gathered, with the collection of final estimates for qualifications pushed back until June 18.
Mr Swinney said this will “maximise the opportunities for learning and teaching”, ensuring all youngsters sitting a national qualification can complete the necessary learning and then be “certificated accordingly”.
Comparing the situation to last year, he said: “We have had much more time to prepare for this. We have had much more dialogue involving local authorities, the professional associations and also young people themselves to make sure that the steps can be put in place.
“We had to deal with an emergency situation last summer and it was difficult, and I have been very candid about how difficult that was, but we have had the time to invest in understanding standards, in making sure staff are supported in the work that has got to be undertaken to assess the work of young people.
“What we’ve got to make sure of now is that despite the fact that we have been operating in a remote learning environment since the turn of the year, that there has been adequate opportunity to undertake the learning and teaching to enable young people to perform well in the qualifications, and I am confident that is taking place.”
The 2021 exams were scrapped at the end of last year amid concerns that pupils who have needed to repeatedly self-isolate would be left at a disadvantage.
Meanwhile, the phased return to schools announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday could allow some senior students working towards qualifications to get back in class later this month.
Mr Swinney stressed that will involve only “limited numbers of senior phase pupils” who need to be in class for “essential practical work that cannot be undertaken remotely”.
Secondary schools will only be allowed to have 5%-8% of their overall school roll in, but the Education Secretary added the numbers “will be defined not essentially by a quota but by what work needs to be done to make sure the life chances of these young people, in terms of the certification process, are not undermined”.
He said: “Schools that would normally accommodate hundreds and hundreds of pupils, in some cases well over 1,000 pupils, will actually be accommodating relatively small numbers of pupils and that will enable extensive physical distancing to be in place, and many of the mitigation measures that are essential to ensure it is a safe environment for staff and pupils.”
Speaking before the Education and Skills Committee at Holyrood later on Wednesday, Mr Swinney said the figures should act as a “ceiling” for schools.
“I wouldn’t like that to be considered a quota, it’s definitely a ceiling but it’s not a quota, it doesn’t all have to be used,” he said.
Support The Courier today.
The Courier is committed to delivering quality content to our communities and right now that’s more important than ever — which is why our key content is free. However, you can support us and access premium content by subscribing to The Courier from just £5.99 a month. Because Local Matters.Subscribe