Covid in Scotland: Exams planned to go ahead as normal next yearon August 18, 2021 at 10:22 am

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The Scottish government confirms exams will go ahead in spring 2022 as long as it is safe.


image sourcePA Media

Exams will go ahead as normal next year if it is safe for them to do so, the Scottish government has confirmed.

It said National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams would be held in spring 2022 providing public health advice allows them to take place.

It was previously confirmed that course content would be reduced to take account of the disruption due to Covid.

Formal exams were cancelled for the past two years because of the pandemic.

Due to continued uncertainty about Covid, two contingency plans will remain in place:

  • If there is further significant disruption to learning as a result of coronavirus, but it remains safe for exams to go ahead, there will be further modifications to courses and assessment.
  • If public health conditions do not allow for an exam diet to take place, awards will be made on teachers’ judgements based on normal in-year assessment.

The Scottish government’s education secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said fairness for learners would be at the heart of the plans.

She said: “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.”

Ms Somerville added that detailed guidance would be issued by the Scottish Qualifications Authority “at the earliest opportunity”.

But the Scottish Conservatives questioned why the government was only giving a “belated update” after schools had returned from the summer holiday, and said it had still failed to give an “outright guarantee” that exams will definitely go ahead.

The party’s education spokesman, Oliver Mundell, said: “That will only serve to create more uncertainty for pupils, teachers and parents who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic.

“The SNP have presided over a shambolic and chaotic exam system over the last couple of years. It has shamefully hit our poorest pupils the hardest.”

One of the main reasons cited for the cancellation of formal exams earlier this year was the patchy nature of the disruption caused by pupils having to isolate.

It was thought unfair to have pupils who had been in class facing the same exam as those who had been forced to self-isolate at home multiple times.

However, there was still criticism about the way grades were decided.

Senior pupils sitting National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers complained that assessments which replaced exams were just “exams by another name”, after some pupils had to do the tests under similar conditions – but with much less preparation.

Grades were then awarded on “teacher judgement”, which had to be backed up by evidence gathered in tests.

Since then, the government has announced it is replacing the SQA, and has announced a commission to look into the way pupils are assessed in future.

The exam diet which had been due to take place in 2020 was scrapped entirely due to the pandemic. Instead, teachers were asked to estimate pupils’ grades.

However, a moderation system downgraded 125,000 results. Following an outcry, the Scottish government agreed that where a pupil had been downgraded by the moderation system the original teachers’ scores would be accepted after all.

The U-turn came after many pupils complained they had been given lower grades than they had achieved in prelim exams at the start of the year, while the moderation system was criticised over claims it unfairly penalised pupils at schools which had historically not performed as well.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Lucy Whyte, BBC Scotland education correspondent

There’s a big debate about to kick off on a national scale around whether we should, in fact, have exams at all.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority is being scrapped and a government commission will look into how we test young people in the future.

That’s a conversation to be had with the luxury of time and with a little distance from the past two years which have been extremely disruptive for pupils, parents and teachers.

What they want to know right now is not the answers to big theoretical questions but the answers to the basics: what do I need to learn and what do I need to teach to make this year a much smoother ride for everyone.

A plan for standard exams to take place means they now know what to aim for. Having not one, but two back-up plans shows the government is still nervous about what the next few months could bring.

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