'Teachers are crying out for qualifications advice'

The 2021 exams should be cancelled and faith placed in teachers' professional judgement, says Seamus Searson

Seamus Searson

'Teachers are crying out for qualifications advice'

The issue of the 2021 exams in Scotland has been a constant theme in recent meetings with our members. We know that it will be up to deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney to make a decision – and he was asked about this issue again today, in Parliament – but teachers are frustrated with the lack of a decision on the requirements for exams in 2020-21.

We all know that education is not going to be "normal" next session, but the delay in making the decision is only adding to the anxiety of staff. There seems to be a lack of urgency on moving forward at the Education Recovery Group in addressing the issue, despite the unions asking for a decision months ago.

One member of our union, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), made this comment:

"Again, it is poor bloody infantry left to make it all work at the last moment. Do they not understand that teachers need time and guidance to make changes to courses? We cannot adapt our work and planning, develop new materials at the drop of a hat."

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If an early decision had been made, it would have given teachers the time to prepare for next session, to focus on the most important elements of their courses and prepare for the collection of evidence that will be required.

Members are crying out for a system to give them a clear indication of what is required. We had hoped that measures would have already been taken to assess what was essential within each level and within each subject.

Teachers adapted very quickly to using their professional judgement in this year’s process after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams were cancelled in March. Once teachers had adjusted and understood the demands placed upon them, they stood up to the challenge in a professional and considered way.

The SSTA had very few concerns from members once the arrangements were put in place. If anything, this should be a good reason for not attempting exams in 2021, but refining the system of teacher professional judgement that has emerged over the past few months.

The focus in gathering evidence next year should be on a limited amount of high-quality evidence, not on cramming in as much work as possible and, in doing so, putting unnecessary pressure on both pupils and teachers.

We need SQA to be calling for quality over quantity and helping teachers to manage a situation that is not of their own making. We should build upon the principle that the professional judgement of teachers is paramount.

Seamus Searson is general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

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