Scotland cancels 2021 Higher exams over Covid disruption

Holyrood also announces plan to stagger students’ return to campuses after Christmas

December 8, 2020
Test and Protect rules sign for School children in Scotland
Source: iStock

Scotland is to cancel school-leavers’ exams in 2021 because of disruption to education caused by Covid-19, the Holyrood government has said.

Deputy first minister John Swinney said that Higher and Advanced Higher exams would not go ahead and that students’ grades will instead be based on teacher judgements.

The decisions comes after the abandonment of exams in 2020 led to controversy over the use of an algorithm to moderate students’ grades, which was seen as penalising learners from the poorest backgrounds. The standardisation exercise was later abandoned, as it was in the rest of the UK.

Mr Swinney said that the level of disruption to schooling in recent months had also hit the most deprived areas hardest.

“While we hope that public health will improve in the coming months with the rollout of the vaccine, we cannot guarantee that there will be no further disruption to pupils’ learning,” he said.

“Holding exams would run the risk of translating the unequal impact of Covid into unfair results for our poorest pupils, leading to their futures being blighted through no fault of their own. That is simply not fair.”

Mr Swinney said that the use of teacher judgements would be “more flexible and takes account of the reality of the disruption so many pupils have already had to their learning”.

The Westminster government has insisted that A-level exams will go ahead in England, but has announced a range of measures designed to support students, such as more generous grading and giving advance notice of exam topics.

The Scottish government also announced plans for a staggered return of undergraduate students to university campuses over a period of six weeks after Christmas, with use of Covid-19 tests on arrival in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

“With only very limited exceptions, undergraduates should initially plan to restart their studies at home and only return to campuses and term-time accommodation when notified to do so by their universities,” the government said in a statement.

The statement added: “All students are being asked to restrict their social interaction for a fortnight before they return to university and for the same period after they get there.”

Matt Crilly, Scotland president of the National Union of Students, said that the guidance on reopening campuses “has come too late”.

“We are concerned about the mental health implications of asking students to reduce their social mixing for 28 days in total…NUS Scotland continues to call for online learning to be the default position, that way no student has to be on campus unless absolutely necessary and every student can make an informed decision about whether they want to return to their student accommodation,” Mr Crilly said.

Mr Crilly added that he welcomed the announcement on Higher exams.

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