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by Jenni Davidson
27 November 2020
SQA advises pupils to consider ‘learning a different instrument’ just months before music exams

Girl playing the flute - Image credit: Toby via Flickr

SQA advises pupils to consider ‘learning a different instrument’ just months before music exams

Pupils sitting music exams have been advised by the SQA to think of taking up a different instrument just months before exams if they are unable to be taught on their usual instrument.

The suggestion, which forms part of a consultation document on the performance part of National 4 and 5, Higher and Advanced Higher music exams, has been described as “ridiculous”.

The advice issued by the SQA suggests candidates in brass, woodwind or voice who are unable to be supported by face to face teaching and learning due to COVID restrictions “might wish to consider the option of learning a different instrument”.

The qualifications authority suggests that pupils could try an instrument that is similar to the one they normally play, such as bass guitar instead of guitar or percussion instead of keyboard.

However, it does not offer suggestions for what instruments pupils who plan to sit exams in brass, woodwind or voice might play instead.

Wind-based instruments and singing pose a particular risk of passing on coronavirus and therefore cannot be taught normally at present, but the SQA said that to ensure “parity” there “cannot be one approach for brass, woodwind and voice candidates and a different one for candidates presenting other instruments”.

The Scottish Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer has described the guidance as “ridiculous and insulting”, while Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray called it “the latest blunder from the SQA”.

Greer said: “To suggest that a young person who has spent up to nine years learning an instrument and honing their skill should start again with another totally unrelated instrument just a few months before their exam is both ridiculous and insulting.

“The SQA have proven yet again that they are unfit for the role they hold in supporting and certifying young people's learning.

“The root cause of this farce is the Scottish Government's insistence on dragging out its final decision on Higher and Advanced Higher exams.

“This is despite it being patently obvious already that exams cannot go ahead in anything like a fair manner, given how much teaching time some young people have missed compared to others.

“Cancelling exams and moving to a system based on assessment of the work a young person has been able to complete throughout the year, factoring in specific disruption like that faced by woodwind and voice musicians, is the only viable option."

Gray said: “This is just ridiculous. Pupils who have spent years mastering an instrument are being told to drop it and suddenly pick up another.

“It makes absolutely no sense, and is only the latest blunder from the SQA.”

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