Decision to cancel exams could come as late as February

'The final moment' a decision could be taken to cancel the exams in Scotland is the February break, education secretary says
11th November 2020, 2:49pm

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Decision to cancel exams could come as late as February

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Decision To Cancel Exams Could Come As Late February

On the day after Wales decided to cancel the 2021 exams, the Scottish education secretary has told MSPs that the February holiday marks "the final moment" such a decision could be taken in Scotland.

John Swinney - who was giving evidence to the MSPs who sit on the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee this morning - said that while the Scottish government had taken the decision to press ahead with Higher and Advanced Higher exams, it could yet "pivot" towards teacher estimates, and that the latest that could happen would be the February break.

On 7 October, Mr Swinney announced in the Scottish Parliament that the National 5 exams would be cancelled but that the plan was for the Higher and Advanced Higher exams to go ahead, albeit starting slightly later than usual.


Background: National 5 exams cancelled amid coronavirus fears

Opinion: How do we avoid an avalanche of SQA assessments?

News: Call for Scotland to follow Wales and cancel exams


Today, Mr Swinney told the education committee: "I've obviously taken a decision not to apply [National 5] methodology to Highers and Advanced Highers but I've made clear to Parliament in October that we retain the ability to pivot to that arrangement if necessary and the final moment at which we could take such a decision would be the February break - at the mid-term break in February.

"So we obviously want to - my clear priority is to run a 2021 exam diet - but I'm also mindful of the fact we don't quite know what the course of the pandemic will be and what degree of disruption will be experienced by individual pupils, or by schools, or by the system in general."

Mr Swinney stressed that February was the latest point at which a decision to cancel the exams could be taken. A decision could be taken earlier, he said, explaining that this would be "advantageous" because it would allow more time to "pivot to the other approaches".

Mr Swinney also told the committee he believed the decision to cancel the N5 exam would not add to teacher workload.

He said it was normal for teachers to assess their pupils' progress throughout the year and when it came to evidence to back up teacher estimates the Scottish Qualifications Authority was looking for quality, not quantity. He also said that the SQA was advising schools not to run prelims.  

Some teachers expressed confusion at this, given that advice issued in October by the SQA on gathering evidence and producing estimates had listed prelims and mocks as "helpful" when arriving at estimates. The guidance also said they were "likely to be the most reliable indicator of performance in a question paper".

However, further advice from the SQA issued this morning on behalf of the National Qualifications Group 2021 - set up to consider the qualification arrangements for this year - stresses "there is no expectation that schools and colleges hold a formal diet of prelims for National 5".

It adds: "One of the key reasons for moving to an alternative model was to create additional teaching time through removing the need for prelims and replacing the final examination diet with more flexible classroom-based assessment."

However, one teacher recently wrote that "chatter" on online forums suggested "second and even third prelims" were being set in some schools "to certify final and estimate grades".

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