Scotland’s school pupils could be waiting until just weeks before exams are due to take place to find out if they will go ahead.
Senior students could have their tests scrapped as late as the end of March, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed.
The SQA exam timetable is due to start on April 26.
With pupils sitting prelims in a few weeks, it means they will not know if they will make up evidence predicting their grades or not.
Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell accused the Scottish Government of having “learned no lessons from the last exams fiasco”.
“March is far too late to ask pupils and teachers to prepare adequately,” he said, “A third year of last-minute disruption is unacceptable.”
National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, students were graded using a model that focused more heavily on teacher judgement.
“Instead of unhelpful speculation the SNP should instead be focusing on keeping our schools open and keeping our kids in classrooms where they learn best,” Mundell said.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the decision had been made and exams were going ahead, but that it would be “deeply irresponsible” not to say contingency measures were in place.
But with the possibility of another variant emerging, she said March represented the latest time the forthcoming exam diet could be disrupted.
“Children have suffered, everybody suffered in the pandemic, but children have suffered disproportionately so the position is clear but no responsible leader would in the face of what we’re dealing with right now say anything other than we’ve got to have contingencies should the unexpected happen,” she told STV News.
Somerville, who took over the education portfolio from John Swinney last year, said planning to respond to a change in the pandemic was in place.
“These contingencies are always in place and they are being very closely monitored, particularly, to see whether we are at the tipping point, between the mitigations at the moment and whether a contingency has to be put in place,” she told BBC Radio Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s contingency plans would be triggered by increasing levels of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the situation gets worse to the point where physical gatherings are restricted at the time of the exams, the SQA exam diet will be cancelled, the government said.
The “flexibility” of the contingencies means that a decision could be taken at any point up to the end of March 2022.
A teacher and education campaigner has criticised the Scottish Government for not developing a robust ventilation system in schools almost two years on in the pandemic.
Nuzhat Uthmani, of Scottish Teachers for Positive Change and Wellbeing (STPCW), said it is “unfathomable” that, for a second winter, staff are having to keep doors and windows open, and ask pupils to layer up.
Sommerville said the importance of ventilation “is absolutely recognised”.
She highlighted the Scottish Government’s £90m for mitigation measures earlier in the pandemic, which included ventilation advice, and another £10m for Co2 monitoring.