Education secretary John Swinney said that since 1888 exams in the country had never been cancelled, even during the two world wars, which showed the "gravity" of the coronavirus outbreak.
BREAKING - exams will not go ahead in scotland— Tes Scotland (@TesScotland) March 19, 2020
Measures to support vulnerable pupils and the children of key medical and other professionals have also been announced. Mr Swinney said schools would use their expertise to decide which children were deemed vulnerable, and there would also be local flexibility over who would be defined as key professionals.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed yesterday that schools in Scotland would close from this weekend, and Mr Swinney – who is also deputy first minister – has been providing more detail in Parliament this afternoon.
The initial reactions online to the cancellation of exams – which the Scottish Qualifications Authority has confirmed will apply to colleges as well as schools – were largely positive. University of Dundee education lecturer Donna Dey said it was a "sensible decision". Alex Ewing, a University of Glasgow student who aspires to be a teacher, said: "So disappointing to hear that the #sqaexams have been cancelled. So many pupils, teachers and families have worked so hard to prepare for them."
The impact of coronavirus on Scotland's schools
In a video message, Fife student Bailey-Lee Robb, who is a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said secondary pupils should take the next few days to "switch off and process" the news that schools were closing and exams being cancelled.
A sensible decision - there are clear processes in place to ensure young people are not disadvantaged. Running an exam diet would only widen the gap. This is equity in action.— Donna Dey (@Donnadey1) March 19, 2020
So disappointing to hear that the #sqaexams have been cancelled. So many pupils, teachers and families have worked so hard to prepare for them. Fingers crossed the #sqa provides an alternative that is a fair assessment for all students.— Alex Ewing (@alexandra8ewing) March 19, 2020
Statement from Bailey-Lee Robb, MSYP for Cowdenbeath and Member of the Education and Children’s Services Committee;— Bailey-Lee (@BaileyLeeRobb_) March 19, 2020
My message to young people of Fife. @carrielnds @CllrFaySinclair @aewingmsp pic.twitter.com/ssLO9SXgpm
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams in Scotland had been due to run from 27 April to 4 June. Students usually receive their results in early August, and Mr Swinney said today that this year's candidates should receive their results by 4 August.
Results will be based on coursework, assessments, estimate grades and prior attainment. Green MSP Andy Wightman said one potential problem was that the standard of preliminary exams "varies hugely" from school to school.
Course work, assessments, estimate grades and prior attainment will form the basis of certification - course work and teacher estimate of grades must be submitted by required deadline @JohnSwinney— Tes Scotland (@TesScotland) March 19, 2020
EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan said: "No young person should be disadvantaged as a result of the SQA diet being cancelled.
"The EIS has long argued for the centrality of teacher professional judgement – based upon course work, class work, and formal internal assessments – in terms of our assessment approaches. Making use of the evidence base which exists in schools, is a sensible approach therefore to delivering accreditation to pupils, and is consistent with an ambition that teachers across the country share.”
Coronavirus: Call for cash payments to free school meal families
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said ahe supported the cancellation of exams, "as the safety of students and staff is rightly the priority during the Covid-19 emergency, and the college sector will fully collaborate with the Scottish government and its agencies, student associations and trade unions to help quickly put in place measures to provide the required support for students and staff, including the more vulnerable".
SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson, who is also chief examining officer, said: "This is an unprecedented situation, and the closure of schools for an extended period will affect almost every family across Scotland.
"The Scottish Qualifications Authority has recently been working through a range of scenarios in relation to the exam diet, including disruption and postponement. However, as the deputy first minister has outlined in Parliament today, the exam diet in 2020 cannot go ahead and I have been asked by the deputy first minister to develop an alternative certification model.
"That work has started, at pace, and I will say more on that as soon as I can. What I can say now is that we want to ensure that we have as much information on the achievements of learners as possible."
Ms Robertson added: "That is why the deputy first minister has asked schools and colleges to continue to work with young people to ensure that any units and coursework are completed and estimated grades are provided by teachers, drawing on the available evidence gathered throughout the year, to SQA’s existing deadlines, or earlier if that is possible. For many learners, we will also have prior attainment information which will be helpful to us."
Ms Robertson also said: "I fully appreciate that this will be an uncertain time for learners who have worked hard throughout the year and will now, with their families, be worried about what this means for them. Everyone here at SQA will do their utmost, with the support of the education system, to ensure that their hard work is rightly and fairly recognised, and allows them to proceed to further learning or work.
"We will work to ensure that learners receive their results no later than 4 August, as planned. We are considering more fully the impact this decision will have on our exceptional circumstances and post-results services. I will confirm that we will offer a free post-results service to ensure that schools and colleges continue to have a mechanism to question any result."
Ms Robertson said she would "strongly encourage all candidates to sign up to MySQA, our online and text service, as a direct way to receive their results".