A “very small” number of Scottish students “unduly disadvantaged by severe disruption to learning and teaching” during the coronavirus pandemic are to be given until September to have their national qualification grades submitted by their schools and colleges.
Online supported study sessions will take place over the summer break to support the students so they are ready to sit assessments when they return to school in August.
The news comes in an update from the group responsible for determining how Scottish students will be assessed this year following the cancellation of national exams, the National Qualifications 2021 Group.
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The standard deadline for schools to submit grades – which the National Qualifications 2021 Group stresses will still apply to the vast majority of students – is 25 June.
The latest update came on the same day that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) warned schools that "appropriate penalties should be applied" if cases of "candidate malpractice" are identified, after Tes Scotland revealed that thousands of students had been sharing details of assessments on the social media site TikTok.
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The National Qualifications 2021 Group – which has made changes to the deadline for schools and colleges submitting results three times now – says it is conscious of “the practical considerations arising from” its latest announcement and that further guidance will be developed “in due course”.
However, it adds that online study sessions will be run during the summer for these learners “so they are prepared to carry out assessments when they return after the summer break”.
The study support sessions are to be provided by e-Sgoil, the online digital learning platform based on the Western Isles.
The update says: “To ensure a degree of equity for learners who have been unduly disadvantaged by severe disruption to learning and teaching, a limited opportunity to submit provisional results by 3 September 2021 is being created. This can be offered to candidates who have completed the learning and teaching of their course but who have not been able to complete their assessment evidence in time for the 25 June submission date.”
The communication goes on to say the default position of schools and colleges should be to submit evidence by 25 June. It is anticipated that “the number of learners needing to utilise this contingency will be very small”, but the group says the move is “an important approach to ensuring equity in the system”.
It continues: “The National Qualifications 2021 Group is conscious of the practical considerations arising from this contingency: precisely how and when the required evidence would be generated, how and when quality-assured grades would be provided to SQA and implications for potential school and college leavers. Further guidance will be developed around such issues in due course.”
On the summer study support sessions to be provided by e-Sgoil, the group says: “The enhanced e-Sgoil offer will also include drop-in sessions during the summer months for the small number of learners who have been identified by their centre as suitable for this incomplete assessment evidence contingency. This will act as a study resource for these learners so they are prepared to carry out assessments when they return after the summer break.”
The update comes as concerns mount that Scotland is headed for another qualifications debacle – after the results fiasco last year when the Scottish government ultimately had to revert to teachers' judgements to award grades to students.
In some schools, teachers say students are facing multiple mini-assessments every day and that this is taking a toll on their mental health.
In other schools, students are sitting exam papers en masse in exam halls – but headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland (SLS) has warned against this approach, given the uncertainty caused by the Covid pandemic and the risk that some students might miss key tests.
In its latest update, the National Qualifications 2021 Group also warns against gathering evidence “solely based on one-off, high-stakes scenarios”.
It says: “Rather, schools, colleges and training providers are encouraged to make use of the considerable flexibility in how and when to carry out assessments. The evidence base for each provisional result does not have to be identical for every candidate and may include assessment evidence produced prior to the period of remote learning, providing it meets the conditions of assessment relative to the course.”
Many schools are using the unused 2020 exam papers to assess students, but an exclusive Tes Scotland story revealed that, with students sitting the papers at different times, they have been widely shared on social media.
A TikTok post seen by Tes Scotland included thousands of comments with students discussing a wide range of papers, from N5 geography and art to Advanced Higher chemistry and physics.
The SQA responded by putting the onus on schools to identify and deal with “candidate malpractice” – and to apply “appropriate penalties”.