The 2021 assessment system put in place after the cancellation of national Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams has left teachers "being set up to take the fall" for its shortcomings, it has been claimed.
The Scottish government's political opponents have weighed in amid growing concern about the system in place this year, highlighted by a series of Tes Scotland articles this week.
We revealed on Monday that thousands of students were sharing details of assessments – routinely referred to as exams, despite official insistence that there should not be any exams this year – on social media site TikTok.
That led to the SQA warning schools that "appropriate penalties should be applied" if cases of "candidate malpractice" are identified, but one pupil wrote today that the SQA "simply will not take accountability for its [own] flawed system".
'Fairness for all learners': SQA warns of penalties for 'exam' details on TikTok
The Scottish Greens' education spokesperson, Ross Greer, told Tes Scotland: “The SQA have designed a system this year which places the blame for any problems on everyone but them. Its been quite obvious for some time that teachers are being set up to take the fall, but now we’ve moved on to the farcical suggestion that pupils will be punished for discussing their exams after they’ve sat them.
“No one seriously thinks that is an enforceable policy, but it yet again allows the exams authority to divert attention from its total failure to plan effectively for this year’s assessments and the toll these de facto exams are taking on the mental health of young people across the country. It’s time for change at the very top of the SQA.”
Jamie Greene, the Scottish Conservatives' education spokesperson, said his party had "been warning about this inevitable situation since the fiasco of last years exams".
He added: “SNP ministers and the SQA shamefully buried their heads in the sand and refused to admit that pupils are sitting exams in all but name in the coming weeks.
“Teachers, pupils and parents are rightly furious at the lack of foresight, leadership and planning which has given way to this scenario.
“Pupils have suffered huge disruption over the last year and are now being faced with added stress of a botched system in relation to the issue of exams.”
Mr Greene added: “Last year saw [education secretary and deputy first minister] John Swinney fail to show any leadership when it came to exam results which threatened the prospect of so many pupils, particularly from our more deprived backgrounds.
“Whoever the new education secretary is in the SNP government must urgently tackle this situation to avoid a repeat of another fiasco this summer.”
Scottish Labour's education spokesperson, Michael Marra, said: “Young people are sitting exams...despite assurances from the education secretary and first minister [Nicola Sturgeon] that they are not [exams]. Instances such as these were inevitable and the lack of leadership from the Scottish government and the SQA are solely to blame.
“It is as insult for the SQA to blame schools for their mess, a mess that was inevitable and obvious to all when the system was announced. The education secretary must ensure that Scotland can have confidence in the qualifications system.
“Their first act upon appointment must be to address these spiralling concerns publicly and help our young people’s confidence. Part of this should be accepting Labour’s resit-guarantee policy.”
Another national qualifications debacle unfolding. The reliance on concentrated exam conditions testing would have been reduced, had removal of coursework not reduced the evidence base so much - as @MarinaShapira and I pointed out in our reviewhttps://t.co/NB3yUo8YoB— Mark Priestley 🇪🇺 (@MarkRPriestley) May 11, 2021
The Scottish Liberal Democrats' education spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart, said: “This is another sign that we are gearing up for exam shambles, part two. Lessons should have been learned after last summer, but after John Swinney and the SQA reconvened the same dangerous echo chamber to oversee this year’s alternative, teachers and pupils hardly stood a chance.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for an overhaul of the SQA for years. John Swinney should have lost his job last summer for ignoring months of warnings about his punishing exams plan, but the Greens saved him again.
“Just like last year, teachers and pupils have been telling John Swinney and the SQA of problems with the planned alternative for months. There are now serious questions to answer about why those concerns were not addressed.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The SQA is taking action following reports of incidents involving candidates sharing confidential assessment content and is contacting schools and colleges to ensure that posts are removed as soon as possible and to reiterate the importance of security arrangements around assessment materials.
“Unlike with exams, schools have flexibility when setting assessments for this year’s qualifications to take account of the disruption to learning that their pupils have experienced as a result of the pandemic.”
Yesterday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon, in response to a question from Tes Scotland, insisted that students' results this year will be based on teacher judgement – despite one union saying that “teacher professional judgement has been taken away”.
Ms Sturgeon sought to offer reassurance about the way qualifications were being awarded this year, saying the government was working “as hard as possible to get the right arrangement in place” and that, this year, qualifications would be awarded “on teacher judgement, not on past results, not on algorithms”.