Education Secretary John Swinney has claimed the Scottish Government is “pulling out all the stops” to reach a final decision on next year’s school exams, amid growing uncertainty.
The Deputy First Minister told the Scottish Parliament the government’s “ambition” remains to run a 2021 exam diet but admitted he does “not know what situation we will face in the spring of next year”.
Mr Swinney said his government must “take account of the lessons” from the 2020 exams controversy, which saw teachers’ evidence-based estimates disproportionately downgraded for pupils from poorer backgrounds, based and relied, in part, on the historical performances of schools.
The government later performed a major U-turn, announcing it was reinstating more than 100,000 exam grades, based on the teacher estimates.
However, the education secretary failed to give a definite answer to MSPs on Tuesday on whether exams would go ahead next year, arguing it would provide “clarity and certainty” at the start of next month.
This will follow an independent review by Professor Mark Priestley of Stirling University, examining the process behind the controversial exam results debacle and reporting his findings by the end of this month.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said he had been contacted by “hundreds” of parents in the last week, concerned the Scottish Government is planning to cancel exams already.
Mr Swinney said he believed parents, pupils and teachers would understand he had to consider “all contingencies”, amid a “deteriorating situation” in relation to Covid-19.
He added: “I cannot ignore that reality and I would be foolhardy to ignore that reality so the Education Recovery Group (ERG) and the SQA are looking closely at contingency options in relation to the exam diet.
“Our ambition remains to run a 2021 exam diet but I have to take a prudent course of action to ensure we explore all possible contingencies to make sure we have a means to effectively certificate in 2021.”
The SNP politician assured Mr Greene his government is “pulling out all the stops” to explore all the options available.
“I will provide as much clarity and certainty as possible at the start of next month, before the October recess, and I would intend to update parliament at that stage, subject to the agreement of the parliamentary bureau,” he added.
One of these options looks at changing the timing of the exam diet to slightly later, in order to allow “more time” for learning and teaching, the education secretary said.
Mr Greene said young people across the country have already “suffered too much disruption to their education”.
He added: “We cannot let them down by accepting an easier option while there is still enough time to plan and save as much of the 2021 exam diet as possible.
“Those pupils, and their parents, are asking for a firm commitment that we don’t throw in the towel on exams until there is no other option. They deserve that promise and they didn’t get it from John Swinney today.
“Considering how quickly and unpredictably the virus is spreading, we also need credible contingency plans to stop this year’s exams fiasco happening again. But they must be just that, backup plans.
“The SNP’s plan A must be to exhaust every available option for exams to go ahead next year.”