Call for government to rethink exam replacement plans

Move to online learning poses ‘serious problems’ for collection of evidence to support teacher estimates, warns union

Emma Seith

Coronavirus school closures: The Scottish government needs to come up with another plan to award SQA exam grades, says union

A Scottish teaching union is calling for the government to come up with a “plan B” for qualifications during Covid and accept that – in light of the recent move to online learning – plans for determining senior students’ grades must change.

After all Scottish exams were cancelled last month, it was announced that students' grades would be based on teacher judgement, with teachers told they needed up to four pieces of evidence to support their estimates – which would be quality assured by councils and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

However, as a result of the move to online learning, Seamus Searson, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), is arguing that the process for awarding grades this year set out by the SQA “will not be possible”.


Background: Scotland's 2021 exams cancelled by education secretary

News: Target date for full school return is delayed

Exclusive: Cancelled exams save the SQA almost £20m


He told Tes Scotland that teachers now face “serious problems” gathering the evidence required by the body, given that the vast majority of students are working from home.

Coronavirus: New plan 'needed to award exam grades'

Even if the assessments could be completed, he argued, it was now impossible for teachers to verify if the work was actually a student’s own, meaning that those students with “the most help, resources and equipment would always do better”.

Mr Searson called for the government to come up with a “plan B”. He said: “Now is the time to look at a different way of recording pupils' progress at the end of this school year," arguing that the SQA could only have “a limited role” rubber-stamping “a straightforward” teacher estimate.

“We may need to look this year at a holistic school report for each senior pupil that records the subjects they have studied and a straightforward teacher assessment," he said. "This report would be the passport for pupils into work, training or into education beyond the school.

“This would allow teachers of senior pupils to focus on teaching and learning until the end of May and not waste theirs and their pupils’ time in trying to create evidence that SQA requires. SQA may need to move over and let teachers do their jobs, and accept that it has a limited role, and confirm the final judgement of the school and its teachers.

“The government needs not to delay. It needs to break from tradition and set a sensible and achievable way forward that reassures pupils and teachers. This would reduce the anxiety and stress of both pupils and teachers.

“Waiting too long and making a late decision does not help anyone.”

Mr Searson was the first prominent figure in Scottish education to call for the 2020 exams to be cancelled – he outlined the reasons for the move in late April in a Tes Scotland article.

Senior officials from the SQA will appear before the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee tomorrow afternoon.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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