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Move to cancel National 5 exams welcomed amid coronavirus uncertainty

By Alan Beresford

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THE announcement that students studying for National 5 qualifications will not sit exams next year has been welcomed by Moray's education committee chairwoman.

Education Secretary John Swinney announced in the Scottish Parliament that grades would be awarded based on coursework and teacher assessments.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams are scheduled to go ahead as planned in the spring.

The move was welcomed by Moray Council chairwoman of children and young people's services committee Councillor Sonya Warren.

She said: "I welcome the cancellation of the National 5 exams, especially given the current situation of an increasing rise in Covid cases and further restrictions coming into effect.

"Nobody is in the position of knowing what the situation will be in a few months' time nor indeed how many of our young people may be disadvantaged by the virus.

"Cancellation of the exams allows young people to know what they have to work towards with certainty. I'm confident that lessons have been learned from this year and that results will accurately reflect their ability and work, with teacher-based assessment giving a sound basis for an award grade."

Speaking in Holyrood, Mr Swinney said: "This year we have more time to prepare, but some things are still the same.

"The virus remains with us, it is still as virulent, it is still as infectious.

"So, we cannot plan for business as usual, that is simply not possible.

"Work towards exams would normally start back in May when the schools were still closed so pupils have already lost a significant amount of precious teaching time.

"And, we cannot predict – no-one can - how much more time might be lost to Covid-19 in the coming months.

"We simply don’t know what spring and summer will look like in terms of the public health position.

"But, what we can do is three key things: we can learn from last year; we can consult our teachers and educationalists; and we can listen to the experts in the design of awarding systems.

"And in every decision we take, we can hold fast to our shared aim to build an approach that recognises the hard work of individual pupils fairly and consistently.

"It must be an approach that does not place undue burdens on them or on Scotland’s teachers.

"And, it has to be an approach that has the confidence of the public, of employers and of the rest of the education system."

Mr Swinney had been setting out the Scottish Government's response to the Rapid Review of National Qualifications Experience report 2020. Professor Mark Priestley was commissioned to conduct a review of events following the cancellation of the examination diet in 2020.

A total of nine recommendations are contained within the report, the main one being to suspend the 2021 National 5 exam diet, with qualifications awarded on the basis of centre estimation based upon validated assessments, the government has accepted the proposal.

Mr Swinney thanked all those who had submitted evidence to or been involved in preparing the report.

However, Conservative Shadow Education Spokesman Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) said the decision to cancel the exams would be "disappointing for pupils, parents and teaching staff.

He continued: “We now require urgent answers on how National 5 grades will be awarded and what his plans are for Highers and Advanced Highers if exams don’t proceed.

"And teachers must be given the clear guidance they need without delay.

“Given its track record on education, there will be very serious doubts about the Scottish Government’s ability to get this right.

“It is incumbent on John Swinney to restore confidence as fast as possible as our young people will not get a second chance of a school education.”

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