School exams set to go ahead as normal next spring

Scottish Government announces that 2022 exam diet will take place next spring 'if safe to do so'.

School exams set to go ahead as normal next spring monkeybusinessimages via IStock
Exams have been disrupted in recent years during the pandemic.

National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams will take place in schools across Scotland next year “if safe to do so”, the Scottish Government announced on Wednesday.

Providing public health advice allows, the Government says the 2022 exam diet will take place in schools next spring, but the content of courses has been reduced to reflect the disruption to learning in the past few years.

It says the decision has informed by public health advice and by the views of partners, including those on the National Qualifications Group, which includes representatives of young people, parents, teachers and other education professionals.

The announcement comes after exams were cancelled the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Students discovered their individual grades this year at the end of June, due to the use of an alternative grading model focused more heavily on teacher judgement backed up by assessment.

That model was introduced after the Scottish Qualification Authority’s (SQA) controversial moderation process was withdrawn and replaced by teachers’ estimates in 2020.

Following the cancellation of this year’s exam diet, the Scottish Government and SQA implemented a new system, this time without an algorithm and with more of a focus on teacher estimates.

But pupils, teachers and parents sought to raise the alarm about the new system throughout the spring, claiming that, in order to produce the required evidence, exam-style assessments had to be held, despite the cancellation of the diet.

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Earlier this year, it was announced the SQA is set to be scrapped after the agency received criticism over the results algorithm used to hand out exam grades during the early stages of the pandemic.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said “fairness for learners sitting exams in 2022 is at the heart of our plans”.

She said: “Assessment modifications across national courses for the next academic session have already been confirmed by the SQA in recognition of the disruption to learning that young people have experienced. We will set out details on further support available for learners in September..  

“Careful contingency planning has taken place in case there is further significant disruption to learning or if public health conditions do not allow for the holding of an examination diet.

“These contingencies offer stability for teachers and learners in the coming academic session and will allow their focus to be on normal practices in teaching, learning and assessment.  More detailed guidance will be issued by the SQA at the earliest opportunity.”

The Scottish Government said two contingency measures have been put in place in case of disruption to next year’s exam diet.

It said if there is further significant disruption to learning as a result of Covid-19, but it is still safe for exams to go ahead, there will be further modifications to courses and assessment.

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If public health conditions do not allow for an exam diet to take place, awards will be made on teachers’ judgements based on normal in–year assessment. 

The SQA says it has modified course assessment requirements for each National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher course.

It said, for most courses, they are the same modifications that were put in place for session 2020-21.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell said: “The SNP had the entire summer period to give clarity on exams. The fact that they have only now given this belated update after the majority of schools have returned is a dereliction of duty.

“SNP ministers have still failed to give an outright guarantee that exams will definitely go ahead next year. That will only serve to create more uncertainty for pupils, teachers and parents who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic.

“The SNP have presided over a shambolic and chaotic exam system over the last couple of years. It has shamefully hit our poorest pupils the hardest.

“Exams remain the best and fairest way to determine what pupils know and what they can do. It is now imperative SNP ministers put every measure in place to keep our schools as safe from the virus.

“That will give us the best chance of ensuring exams will go ahead as planned next year. Ministers must also urgently commit to retaining exams as part of Scotland’s education system going forward, not just for 2022.”

The cancellation of exams has been one of the more controversial aspects of the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic.

Last year, the model adopted by the exams system was scrapped after a public outcry, which included pupils taking to the streets to voice their frustration.

An algorithm put in place to moderate teacher judgment – which took into account the past attainment of schools – marked down more than 120,000 entries.

Following the decision to scrap the system, then education secretary John Swinney faced and survived a confidence vote in Holyrood.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: “It is no surprise that the Scottish Government has stated its intention to reinstate an exam diet in 2022, should public health advice allow.

“The EIS would have preferred to see exams by-passed for S4 students in the interests of supporting education recovery and wellbeing among this cohort. 

“It remains to be seen whether the reductions in course content for this year as recognition that young people have been adversely affected by the pandemic through no fault of their own, will suffice.

“It is essential that appropriate and robust contingencies are in place should it be necessary to cancel the exam diet on public health grounds.

“We saw earlier this year the damage caused by decisions being made too late without adequate contingences in place and the huge workload and stress that was placed on students and staff as a result.”