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07 October 2020
National 5 exams to be cancelled in 2021

Parliament TV

National 5 exams to be cancelled in 2021

National 5 level exams are to be cancelled in Scotland in 2021 and replaced by a system based on teacher assessment and coursework.

Education secretary John Swinney said that a normal exam schedule would be “simply too big a risk” given the uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams are to go ahead slightly later than normal, although plans are being made in case those too have to be cancelled.

Swinney promised that the new system for awarding National 5 grades would not be judged in the same way as they were this past summer.

He said that grades would not be given or taken away based on a statistical model, promising: “There will be no algorithm”.

A new system will be developed by the SQA which he said would maintain standards but also be fairer.

He said: “The SQA will build this system of quality assurance in collaboration with the education system, drawing on existing expertise.

“Put simply: an A an Aberdeen has to be the same as an A in Annan or anywhere else.”

He added: “Awards will be based on the progress of our young people and their work. This work, and the judgement of the teacher, supported by appropriate quality assurance and maintained standards will be the elements on which grades are based.

National 5 awards will be based on two to four pieces of work per subject that will be formally graded by teachers.

Swinney said that the SQA will publish guidance for teachers on evidence gathering and estimation, and subject-specific guidance will come after the October holidays.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams are still planned to take place, but will start on the week beginning 13 May, two weeks later than normal years.

Awards will still be given on 10 August, Swinney added.

But the education secretary said that the Scottish Government would be monitoring the public health situation across Scotland up until February 2021 and might have to decide to cancel and replace these exams as well.

He said: “To avoid decisions being made in extremis as quite simply had to be the case this year, a fair contingency plan will continue to be developed for those exams. This will include key checkpoints, up to the February break to assess public health advice, and in the light of that, of our plans.

“If necessary, we will award Higher and Advanced Higher courses based on teacher professional judgement, supported by SQA quality assurance, taking account of classroom assessment evidence, including prelims, where appropriate.

“In deciding the way forward for this year's exams there is a reality that we must face. Coronavirus has not gone away. If anything it is making a comeback.

“Our task is to build a system of awards that can be delivered, despite coronavirus, and I believe the plan that we have developed does that.

“It has evidence at its heart, puts a robust system of quality assurance in place, and it works with teachers to award, on the basis of their professional judgement.

“I believe it is fair. I believe it is rigorous and of greatest importance. It gives us the opportunity to recognise the achievements of young people in Scotland, and these challenging days.”

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