Pupils cram over Easter as SQA accused of setting 'non-stop timetable of de-facto exams'
JOHN Swinney and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) are coming under pressure to abandon plans for “a non-stop timetable of de-facto exams in the weeks after their Easter break.”
This year's National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers were all cancelled last December, because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
At the time, Education Secretary John Swinney said it would not be fair as exams could not “account for differential loss of learning and could lead to unfair results for our poorest pupils.”
Instead, the government said grades would be awarded based on "teacher judgement".
However, that judgement will need to be backed up by evidence which, according to guidance provided to schools, should be taken from class tests based on questions provided by the SQA.
While the approach varies across schools, for many pupils these tests are exams in all but name.
Many schools appear are holding the tests after Easter, forcing pupils to study with little time.
One teacher took to Twitter to describe it as the SQA “simply asking schools to gather the evidence that they would over the course of a year in two months.“
Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "Our view is if youngsters do any assessments, they should be broken up, and used between now and the end of term.
"At the moment, the government guidance is that when pupils go back to school after Easter, it should be for teaching and learning. Assessments should come towards the end of the session.
"That is the mistake schools are making."
He added: "There are a lot of children who won't have been engaging during lockdown who will be totally disadvantaged by the systems these schools are trying to bring in.
"The system put in place at the moment looks straightforward but it's actually micro-managing teachers' decisions. This is where the panic is starting to come in. Teachers are now looking for pieces of evidence to prove to the SQA their grades are correct."
The Scottish Qualifications Authority said it had "made it clear that there is no requirement to replicate a full formal exam or prelim diet".
"Schools and colleges know their learners best, so it is appropriate that they deliver assessments which suit their circumstances this year," the SQA said.
"Evidence requirements have been significantly reduced – it is about quality, not quantity."
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “The SQA needs to drop the ludicrous requirement that the evidence submitted to them across a range of subjects must have been produced under exam-like conditions. This diktat is creating a pressure-cooker environment for both pupils and teachers, who are only just returning to class but who now face a non-stop timetable of de-facto exams in the weeks after their Easter break.
“Scotland’s exams authority isn’t fit for purpose. Teachers have known this for years and last year’s entirely avoidable grading shambles demonstrated that to the rest of the country. Fortunately, the Scottish Greens were able to use our influence in Parliament to have those lowered grades restored.
“With a board of management including three management consultants but just one teacher, it's clear that reform of the SQA needs to start at the top. Scotland’s national education bodies should be overseen by those actually qualified in or directly affected by the decisions they take, which is why the Scottish Greens would replace the current SQA board with one in which at least half of members are qualified teachers or lecturers and spaces are reserved for representatives of young people and their parents and carers.”
Scottish Labour education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “The pandemic has been especially tough on school pupils, and now the SNP's incompetence in running our education system is denying them a fair chance in this hugely important moment in their lives.
“Despite last year’s exam moderation disgrace, John Swinney and the SQA have clearly learnt nothing.
“A national qualifications system must have national integrity. Pupils and parents were told that exams were to be cancelled and it is now clear that in many areas that will not be the case. Our children’s futures cannot be left to what looks like another emerging SNP disaster in education policy.
"Scottish Labour is clear that pupils must not be penalised for the pandemic. Our manifesto will offer a resit guarantee for pupils affected by the pandemic as part of a comeback plan for education, because Scotland's children deserve better.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added:"Fairness to learners was the reason Scottish Liberal Democrats called for this year's exams to be cancelled. That must be at the heart of the replacement system.
"Pupils are telling us a lot is being crammed into a short period of time at short notice. This hasn't been helped by delayed decision making and late guidance.
"I can understand pupils' anxieties because it went badly wrong last year. John Swinney ignored all the warnings and pressed ahead with a system that crushed ambitions and penalised pupils from poorer backgrounds. Teachers are sick of being cut out of the loop and their confidence in the SQA is at an all-time low. "
Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe