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Scottish Government cancels all Higher and Advanced Higher exams in 2021 amid fears disadvantaged pupils would be penalised

By Scott Maclennan

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Education secretary John Swinney.
Education secretary John Swinney.

Education secretary John Swinney has announced the cancellation of all Higher and Advanced Higher exams in 2021 with awards to be based on teachers' assessment of evidence of pupils’ attainment.

He made the announcement earlier today saying the exams will be replaced with a model developed for National 5 qualifications.

To go ahead with the exam diet would, he argued, would mean that some of the most disadvantaged pupils would suffer most as Covid had disproportionately hit those living in poverty and they were the ones who typically experienced most disruptions to their education.

“While we hope that public health will improve in the coming months with the roll-out 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.

“There will be no Higher or Advanced Higher exams in 2021. Instead we will adopt a new model that is based on the one developed for National 5 qualifications and make awards on teacher judgment of evidence of learner attainment.

“This approach is more flexible and takes account of the reality of the disruption so many pupils have already had to their learning.”

The Scottish Conservatives hit out at the decision accusing Mr Swinney of 'dithering' while leaving pupils, parents and teachers in the dark.

Tory shadow education secretary Jamie Greene said: “John Swinney delayed this decision to the last possible moment, shamefully keeping pupils, teachers and parents in the dark for months.

“At every turn during this pandemic, he has failed to step-up and show the leadership required.

“First it was the exams fiasco, then it was throwing the towel in over National 5 exams, and now he has dithered and delayed over Higher and Advanced Higher exams.

“No wonder beleaguered teachers are writing in their droves to confirm they have completely lost confidence in John Swinney’s abilities. That will only mount as this latest decision raises more questions than it does answers.

“The Scottish Conservatives will bring forward a vote tomorrow to make the SNP answer for their disastrous record on our schools during this pandemic and throughout their years in charge of our education system.”

Related: First Minister apology after exam furore

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