Scottish pupils could still sit exams this year despite Covid-19 outbreak

The Scottish Government is assessing options that include children taking their exams this year despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Education Secretary John Swinney said three different possibilities are being considered.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority is to put a specific contingency proposal to the minister, with Mr Swinney due to update MSPs at Holyrood later on Thursday.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that “exams will not take place as planned in May and June” in England.

Mr Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We could continue to run an exam diet, it may be possible with proper social distancing in schools but it’s logistically very different from the normal way of running exams where in some schools 250 children may be in the same large school assembly hall with two invigilators who, with no disrespect intended, are invariably over the age of 70.

“That traditional model would be very difficult for us to operate, we would have to separate the children up into numerous groups around the school, much smaller groups with many many more invigilators.”

He added: “The second option is to delay the exam diet and do it later in the year, obviously that’s an option we can consider but the uncertainty around that is we don’t know how long this is going to go on for.

“The third approach is of alternative certification, where we look at the coursework that young people have undertaken, their prior attainment where that is available and relevant, and also the judgment of teachers about the expected performance of young people.

“Those three options are being assessed as we speak.”

With schools across Scotland being closed from Friday, he said it might be the last day at school for those pupils who are leaving this year.

Asked about why the Scottish Government decided to suspend classes, Mr Swinney said the scientific advice had changed, with the experts saying “that this was the moment at which it would be beneficial to reinforce the social distancing approach … that it would be beneficial for schools and nurseries to close to contribute towards stemming the spread of the coronavirus”.

In addition to this, he said a number of schools are now finding it difficult to continue operating as normal because of the number of staff who are self-isolating.

Mr Swinney accepted closing all the schools is “an enormously disruptive move for members of the public”.

He said: “I wish we didn’t have to do this but I think it’s the right thing to do to try to protect the population and to contribute to those efforts to try to reinforce social distancing and to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.”

The Education Secretary said the Scottish Government is working with councils to try to put childcare arrangements in place to help “those individuals who are critical to dealing with the emergency situation that we face to continue to have proper support and assistance for their children whilst they are at work”.

He added there would be “financial support to families who would ordinarily be in support of free school meals to make sure they receive some nutritious food during the day”.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Government announced a £350 million package of measures aimed at tackling some of the financial hardship that will be caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.