Update on exams in Scotland

Education Secretary John Swinney updated MSPs on the plans for school exams in Scotland next year, after the 2020 diet was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  (7 October 2020).

By Richard Fraser, Editor

On 7 October 2020, Education Secretary John Swinney updated MSPs on the plans for school exams in Scotland next year.

National 5 exams are to be cancelled in Scotland in 2021 and replaced with teacher assessments and coursework.

John Swinney said a full exam diet during the continuing COVID pandemic was "too big a risk".

Although new restrictions were imposed across Scotland in response to a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases, schools are to remain open, but Mr Swinney said it was likely students would still face disruption - meaning an "alternative approach" was needed.

He said National 5 qualifications would be judged on "teacher judgement supported by assessment" under a quality assurance framework to be ready later this month.

However, that space then allows an exam diet to be put in place for Higher and Advanced Higher exams in 2021 in COVID-secure conditions in schools.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go "slightly later" in the year, until May.

Mr Swinney said:

"First and foremost, awards will not be given – or taken away - on the basis of a statistical model nor on the basis of a school’s past performance. There will be no algorithm."

He said awards would be based on the progress of our young people and their work.

Dougie Atkinson, Voice Scotland's Senior Professional Officer, said:

“Voice is pleased that a decision has been taken quickly, and cautiously welcomes the decision to cancel National 5 exams in 2021.

“However, Voice is concerned about the increase in workload with the proposed new assessments teachers will need to undertake as evidence.

“Voice is calling for more detail over what assistance the SQA will provide to schools. Voice members are asking if teachers will be required to formulate their own tests, or if SQA will provide them. They urgently need to know more about any moderation process to minimise additional workload and teacher stress, and before Voice can fully support the proposal.

“With Higher exams going ahead in 2021, teachers also need more detail about what additional work is required in preparing pupils for the final exam, which again may impact teacher workload.

“Voice is seeing evidence that, with the cancellation of 2020 exams, Higher classes this year are quite behind in their learning as they have not been subjected to the usual rigorous consolidation of National 5 learning that they would generally experience before their exams.

“Teachers are finding that they are having to cover more of the building blocks than they normally would in the autumn.

“Voice is pleased, however, that the higher exams have been pushed back to mid May, so teachers have more time to address this, but there is a risk that the same issue will happen the following year, potentially creating a knock-on effect for years to come.”

Further information (Scottish Government)

SQA awards 2021
Plans for Highers to go ahead; National 5 exams replaced.

Deputy First Minister's speech on SQA Awards 2021
John Swinney's speech in Parliament on 7 October 2020

Watch the statement and debate:


Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.