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by Jenni Davidson
08 December 2020
John Swinney announces cancellation of Higher and Advanced Higher exams in 2021

John Swinney - Image credit: Scottish Parliament TV

John Swinney announces cancellation of Higher and Advanced Higher exams in 2021

John Swinney has announced that Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be cancelled in 2021.

The Education Secretary noted that although prospects looked better as a result of the vaccine, pupils had already lost “significant learning time”.

He said that the time lost at the end of the last school year had been compounded by some having to self-isolate or schools being closed in this academic year.

“And we know that the level of disruption to learners has not been equal,” he said.

“Almost 40 per cent of those who were not in school for more than one fifth of school openings for a COVID-related reason in S4 are from our poorest communities.

“In S5 it is 33 per cent and in S6 it is 26 per cent.

“And 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 the exams safely in the spring and more whether we can do so fairly.”

Changing the exams for all could not get around the fact that a significant percentage of the poorest pupils had lost more teaching time than others, he said.

Instead a model was needed that took account of the circumstances of the individual pupil.

This model is already being developed for National 5s by a group including the SQA and directors of education.

Under the model, schools and colleges are working with the SQA to “understand the standards required for qualifications” and they will then apply that to “specified pieces of evidence such as coursework” with provisional results for individual pupils to be submitted to the SQA by 28 May.

Details of the model for National 5s are being published today.

Swinney confirmed that no algorithm would be used in deciding pupil grades next year.

The Education Secretary also announced the arrangements for students returning to college and university after the Christmas break.

College students, who generally don’t move away from home to study, should return as planned, he said.

But with universities, Swinney said they had to take a “different approach”.

Return to universities will be staggered and university students should begin the term working from home, only returning when instructed to do so by their university.

He also asked students to restrict their social interactions for two weeks before their return to university and for two weeks afterwards.

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