Coronavirus: Exams cancelled for Scots high school pupils

John Swinney told MSPs that coursework, existing grades and prior attainment will be used to assess grades.

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Exams will be cancelled for pupils in Scottish high schools, education secretary John Swinney has announced.

He told MSPs that coursework, existing grades and prior attainment will be used to assess the grades of pupils.

The education secretary, who is also the deputy first minister, said the “unprecedented” move was a sign of the “gravity” of the situation the country is facing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced all schools and nurseries will close from Friday.

Speaking in Holyrood on Thursday, Swinney said: “In all of our history, Scotland has never cancelled the exams.

“Since 1888 they have been held every May or June, without fail.

“In the midst of two world wars the exams went ahead. It is a measure of the gravity of the challenge we now face that I must today announce the exams will not go ahead this year.”

Despite the school closures, the education secretary said for most pupils teaching would continue, in many cases through online learning, but there would be a focus on pupils in S4 to S6 who need to submit coursework.

He said: “At the end of tomorrow, schools and nurseries should ordinarily close for children and young people.

“Teaching, learning and support will continue, albeit in different ways for different groups of children.

“Teachers and other staff who are well will continue to be working.

“Senior phase pupils with coursework for national qualifications to complete will be informed by their schools how to complete this.”

He added: “The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will require relevant units to be completed, and coursework and teacher estimates of grades to be submitted by the agreed deadlines or indeed sooner where that is possible.”

The Scottish Government intends for pupils to receive their grades on August 4 as planned, but the education secretary conceded the date could change.

Swinney also said ministers are looking with councils at solutions for pupils who receive free school meals.

SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson said: “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, who is also Scotland’s chief examining officer, confirmed there will be a free post-results service for pupils to review grades.

She added: “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.”

Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim said: “Universities support the need to put pupil safety and wellbeing first and so we recognise the need for this decision in today’s unprecedented circumstances.

“Universities will work very closely with the SQA, schools, government and others to make this work.

“We want to ensure that even in the extraordinary circumstances of the moment, learners are able to demonstrate their abilities and progress to higher education.”

Watch the Scotland Tonight special programme with Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, answering your coronavirus health questions. It’s available now on the STV Player