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by Louise Wilson
18 August 2021
School exams set to return ‘if safe to do so’

School exams set to return ‘if safe to do so’

School exams are set to go ahead next year – if the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic have passed.

But if the public health advice changes, exams could be cancelled for the third year running, with awards instead being made based on teacher judgements and in-year assessments.

At the moment, pupils starting their National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers this month will be expected to sit exams in spring 2022.

But course content has been reduced to take account of the disruption to learning over the last 18 months and could be further reduced if there is more disruption caused by COVID-19.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Exams will take place next year if safe to do so.”

She added: “Careful contingency planning has taken place in case there is further significant disruption to learning or if public health conditions do not allow for the holding of an examination diet.

“These contingencies offer stability for teachers and learners in the coming academic session and will allow their focus to be on normal practices in teaching, learning and assessment.  More detailed guidance will be issued by the SQA at the earliest opportunity.”

The education secretary previously said an announcement on exams next year would be made before pupils returned after the summer holidays.

While the many schoolchildren in Scotland started the new term today, some local authorities saw their pupils return last week.

Teaching union the EIS said the announcement was "no surprise" but expressed disappointed that S4 students would be expected to sit exams.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The EIS would have preferred to see exams by-passed for S4 students in the interests of supporting education recovery and wellbeing among this cohort.  It remains to be seen whether the reductions in course content for this year as recognition that young people have been adversely affected by the pandemic through no fault of their own, will suffice.

"It is essential that appropriate and robust contingencies are in place should it be necessary to cancel the exam diet on public health grounds. We saw earlier this year the damage caused by decisions being made too late without adequate contingences in place and the huge workload and stress that was placed on students and staff as a result.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats expressed concern about the additional workload for teachers needing to plan for three different possible outcomes.

Beatrice Wishart MSP added: "While an announcement at this point in time is welcome, it will be difficult for teachers, pupils and parents to have faith in these plans when the system continues to be presided over by the same people who caused such disruption and upset both this year and last.

“The lack of accountability at the top chipped away at the little trust that was left.  The SQA needs to be reformed for the recovery, and that includes reconsidering who is in charge.”

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