'Delay the due date for Higher teacher estimates’

Scottish schools are due to submit Higher grade estimates in May, but more learning time is needed, argues this teacher

Andrew Bailey

Coronavirus and schools: The due date for Higher teacher estimates should be delayed, argues this teacher

Students need more time. 

It is nearly a month since the Higher exams were cancelled by the deputy first minister and education secretary, John Swinney. When viewed through the lens of pupil equity – a greater part of the newly adopted professional standards for teachers – it is difficult to disagree with the decision and now, as the pandemic forces schools once again to move to online learning, we see our English neighbours doing the same.  


Background: Scotland's 2021 exams cancelled by education secretary

News: Target date for full school return is delayed

Opinion: Could cancelling exams permanently reshape assessment?


In December, announcing the decision, Mr Swinney said students had "lost significant learning time" and this had been "compounded by the disruption many have suffered as they were obliged to self-isolate, had to learn from home or even saw their school closed".  The move to remote learning for at least the duration of this month will only widen the attainment gap and inequities within the system. 

Before this week we had seen comments about the increased teacher workload and challenges of time for marking and moderation, as well as the beginning of discussions about how to change the Scottish assessment system for greater equity. Both are important and I have long advocated changes to the examination system.

Highers: Students need as much learning time as possible

However, I fear that many have already let go unchallenged a key component in the proposed model for awarding national qualifications, which is the Scottish Qualifications Authority date for submission of estimates, on 28 May. That date applies to National 5 "provisional results" but the SQA has said it anticipates the approach to awarding Highers and Advanced Highers will follow broadly the same timeline.

In my own area of specialism, science, cancelled exams are interpreted to mean that Higher students will sit the SQA provided assessment, the same cancelled three-hour exam of two papers, in their classroom rather than a hall.

They will likely sit this assessment earlier than the cancelled 12 May exam date to allow for teacher marking, moderation and the estimate process. This leads to the question of how the cancellation of exams allow for any more learning time to make up for the lost learning mentioned by Mr Swinney, and how cancellation helps with inequity.

For more learning time, the SQA estimate date needs to be pushed forward, perhaps as late as 21 June. I have no doubt the SQA will have argued it needs this time for the thorough moderation of centres, but we need to put student equity ahead of this. 

The current model and plan does little to help learners impacted by the pandemic and therefore needs to be modified to allow as much learning time as possible. 

Andrew Bailey is a science and physics teacher in Scotland

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