Today, in a historic move, education secretary John Swinney announced that this year’s exam diet has been cancelled. The news follows first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday that schools would shut at the end of the week in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Here are 12 of Mr Swinney’s main messages:
1. This year’s exam diet has been cancelled. Making the announcement Mr Swinney said: “In all of our history, Scotland has never cancelled the exams. Since 1888, they have been held every May or June without fail. In the midst of two world wars, the exams went ahead – it is a measure of the gravity of the challenge we now face that I must today announce the exams will not go ahead this year.”
2. The qualifications pupils receive will be based on “a combination of coursework; teachers’ assessments of estimated grades; and prior attainment”.
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3. Teachers are to submit units, coursework and teacher estimates in line with Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) deadlines “or indeed sooner where that is possible”.
4. The SQA’s plan is that students will still receive their results by 4 August.
5. The SQA has processes in place for pupils who have been ill during the school year, or who have experienced circumstances outwith their control, such as the fires at Woodmill High in Fife and Peebles High in the Borders. Mr Swinney reiterated a number of times that pupils will not be disadvantaged.
6. Schools will be closed to the majority of pupils but teachers and other school staff will continue working – most will “ensure educational continuity” by providing “distance learning and online learning”.
7. The focus of learning for S4-6 pupils will be on completing coursework for national qualifications. In the broad general education educational continuity will be provided “through setting weekly learning tasks” and emailing these to families or using “Glow and other online learning platforms”.
8. Some councils may opt to keep some schools open “with reduced staffing” but “operating in a very different way” for the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils.
9. No definition was given of who counted as key workers or who counted as vulnerable pupils – there would be local flexibility – but when it comes to vulnerable pupils, councils were told to take account of poverty, welfare, child protection, children with complex additional support needs and the need to provide access to food. Lone parents who fall ill may also need support.
10. Continuation of free meals might include direct payments and vouchers – as has already happened in Shetland. Other authorities are looking at opening community campuses to provide meals, or to enable young people or families to collect food.
11. Probationer teachers should continue to be paid and – although the final decision rested with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) – Mr Swinney said he thought it would be “unreasonable” not to credit probationers with a full year in the classroom. He pointed to a precedent: student teachers withdrawn from placement early and who met the standard have been given a pass.
12. When it came to the primary to secondary transition for P7s whose school year may now have ended, Mr Swinney admitted he had not quite begun thinking about the end of June. The government would have to get round to thinking through transition, he said.