National 5 exams cancelled in Scotland due to Covid-19

National 5 exams in Scotland will be cancelled and others will start later in the year due to Covid-19, Education Secretary John Swinney has said.

The move means young people who were due to sit the tests will be assessed based on coursework instead.

Highers and Advanced Higher qualifications will be pushed back, starting on the later date of May 13, to ensure students who missed teaching time due to the pandemic earlier this year will have the chance to catch up.

But contingency plans will be developed for the cancellation of those exams, with “check points” in place up until February for a decision to be made.

Mr Swinney said the Scottish Government “could not plan for business as usual” in next year’s exam diet.

He told MSPs: “Due to the level of disruption already caused by Covid and due to the likely disruption faced by some or all of our pupils and students this academic year, a full exam diet is simply too big a risk to take.”

The decision was based on two recommendations from a review ordered by the Education Secretary in the wake of the exams scandal by Professor Mark Priestley of Stirling University.

Mr Swinney said: “The alternative approach will be based on teacher judgment, supported by assessment resources and quality assurance.”

Between two and four pieces of work for every subject will be required from pupils, with Mr Swinney saying guidance from the SQA will “emphasise quality, not quantity”.

In August, the Scottish Government was criticised after exam results grades were based on a computer model, and 124,564 pupils were downgraded.

Minister later changed their mind and original estimates of teachers were allowed to stand for those who were downgraded.

Mr Swinney said an award “would not be given or taken away” in future on the basis of a computer model or the past performance of schools, as was the case in this year’s system.

He added: “There will be no algorithm. Awards will be based on the progress of our young people and their work.

“This work and the judgment of the teacher, supported by appropriate quality assurance to maintain standards, will be the evidence on which grades are based.”

Hate Crime and Public Order Bill
Hate Crime and Public Order Bill

But Scottish Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene told Mr Swinney he believes a full exam diet could still run next year, although he welcomed the fact a decision had been taken on the matter early.

He added: “I’m not convinced that full justification has been offered in today’s statement for the cancellation of National 5s.

“It does feel like the towel has been thrown in already.”

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said the statement was “very, very late”, adding: “Teachers are months into teaching courses without knowing exactly what they should be teaching, how pupils will be assessed and what evidence they should have been gathering.

“They were told that exams would go ahead but then that a final decision had not been reached.

“They were told courses would be amended to account for lost time but not how, while days weeks and months passed by.”

The Scottish Greens pushed for the scrapping of all exams.

In a statement after Mr Swinney addressed Parliament, the party’s education spokesman Ross Greer said “I cannot for the life of me work out why the Education Secretary hasn’t done the same with Highers.”