Teachers’ union calls to cancel next year’s exams

The leader of a Scottish teachers’ unions said next year’s exams should be cancelled because of the ongoing coronavirus emergency.

Seamus Searson of the SSTA argued this could help – as the time available to complete courses is likely to be shorter than usual.

It was still not known when schools would be able to open again.

This year’s exam grades are to be primarily based on estimates by teachers.

Mr Searson made the comments in an interview in the education publication TES Scotland.

He said: “The SQA is going to have to change the way it delivers exams next year and I am of the view that next year should be the same as this year – the results should be based on teacher judgement. That, to me, is a logical way forward.”

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Mr Searson argued that setting the system up that way would also make schools better able to cope if there was a second wave of the virus and another lockdown.

He added: “Within a week or two from starting with a new class the teacher will know who is going to be top and who is going to be bottom in terms of ability. The people who know the pupils best are the teachers and they know who the A-grade students are and who looks like they are on track for a C.

“If we say we are going to have exams that is going to put a lot of pressure on teachers and children and we are going to start the year with this monster we can’t deliver. We need to think of ways to reduce the burden on teachers and pupils, otherwise they are going to have a few months to deliver a whole course and that’s just not going to be possible.”

Education Secretary John Swinney has said it is still impossible to say when schools might reopen.

It is being widely assumed that social distancing measures will still be in force when they do reopen. This could potentially mean pupils will only be back part-time.

The cancellation of this year’s exam diet was announced in March, a few days before the country went into lockdown.

Last week, the qualifications agency, the SQA, gave full details of the system that will be used to determine candidates’ grades. There will also be a free appeals system.

An SQA spokesman said: “Following the cancellation of the 2020 exam diet, and at the request of the deputy first minister, the SQA was asked to develop an alternative certification model for 2020.

“Planning for the 2021 examination diet is already under way and will continue.”

The largest teaching union, the EIS, has suggested that S4 students avoid exams next year and instead work over two years to sit exams at the appropriate level in S5.

‘Eggs in one basket’

This could mean, for instance, that some students might not sit a National 5 in English in S4, so the first qualification they obtained in the subject would be their Higher.

A spokesman said: “The EIS view is that there is an urgent need to future-proof our exams system and to move away from all our eggs in one basket, high stakes assessment such as the current exam diet.

“It is entirely possible that we could face a second wave of Covid next session. Taking all of this into account, there is certainly a strong case for next year’s S4 to work towards their awards over two years in part to have sufficient time to cover the course work, but also because it is the exit qualification which is critical for future steps.”

The EIS has been keen to move the qualifications system in this direction since it went through a shake-up seven years ago.

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