National 5 exams have been cancelled in 2021 to reduce the risk to Higher and Advanced Higher exams, which will begin around a fortnight later.
Education Secretary John Swinney said National 5s accounted for more than half of the exam diet and scrapping them would allow Higher and Advanced Highers to be staged as safely as possible, with virus prevention measures including distancing in place.
Public health guidance permitting, Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go ahead from May 13, but a contingency plan is to be developed for the grades to be delivered fairly if they are called off.
Mr Swinney set out long awaited arrangements for the 2021 exam diet in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, following the cancellation of this year’s exams after the nation went into lockdown.
He said: “From a public health point of view not having these exams [National 5s] significantly reduces the risk of the exams as a whole.
From a public health point of view not having these exams significantly reduces the risk of the exams as a whole.”
Education Secretary John Swinney
“It means we can build an exam diet for Higher and Advanced Highers that is as safe as it possibly can be, using all the coronavirus mitigations we have sadly become so familiar with, including physical distancing, and enhanced cleaning.
“It also means we can use the time in school freed up by cancelling the National 5 exams to make up some of the time that pupils have lost at the end of last year.
“This additional time, in conjunction with the course assessment modifications the SQA has made following its consultation, give the greatest chances of these exams being implemented fairly.”
2020 results controversy
Mr Swinney admitted that the Scottish Government “did not get it right for all young people” when more than 124,000 grades were modified downwards by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, using a system which included reference to schools’ past performance.
He said the approach being taken this year was based on recommendations from Professor Mark Priestley’s review of this year’s process, with National 5 qualifications to be based on teacher judgement, supported by assessment resources and quality assurance.
The SQA, he said, would work with colleges and schools on quality assurance and provide guidance on evidence gathering and estimation, with a focus on quality rather than quantity.
He said: “Put simply an A in Aberdeen has to be the same as an A in Annan or anywhere else.”
Given what he described as this year’s “controversies”, he said: “First and foremost awards will not be given or taken away on the basis of a statistical model nor on the basis of a schools’ past performance; there will be no algorithm.
“Awards will be based on the progress of our young people and their work.”
Scottish Conservatives education spokesman Jamie Greene said it felt like “the towel has been thrown in already”.
He said: “We believe a full exam diet could and should have taken place next year and that the onus was on the Education Secretary to make that happen or instead justify why that cannot be achieved under his watch.
A full exam diet could and should have taken place next year.”
Jamie Greene, Scottish Conservatives
“I’m not convinced that full justification has been offered in today’s statement for the cancellation of National 5s.”
Calling for a guarantee teachers would be given full guidance on assessment, he said: “If the Education Secretary wants to restore the trust of parents, teachers and the young people themselves he needs to get this right and right now.”
Shadow secretary for education and skills, Iain Gray, criticised the delay in offering clarity to teachers, pupils and parents.
He said: “Teachers are months into teaching courses without knowing exactly what they will be teaching, how pupils will be assessed and what evidence they should have been gathering.
“They were told exams would go ahead but a final decision had not been reached. They were told courses would be amended to account for lost time but not how. Days week and months passed by.”
SQA guidance on this year’s qualifications was promised in the week beginning August 31 but was delayed pending publication of the findings of Professor Priestley’s review.