Exams cancelled Scotland: how will grades for SQA Highers and National 5s be calculated in 2021?

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The lack of continuity in school attendance has impacted students’ ability to learn

Schools have been closed until the end of January as part of a national lockdown aimed at curbing the sharp rise in coronavirus cases, which is widely attributed to the new strain of the virus.

Schools across Scotland were initially closed in March 2020 during the first national lockdown, and reopened in August.

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But due to the new national lockdown schools will be closed again, further disrupting education across the country.

Education Minister John Swinney has confirmed Nat 5 and Higher examinations are cancelled (Picture: Getty Images)Education Minister John Swinney has confirmed Nat 5 and Higher examinations are cancelled (Picture: Getty Images)
Education Minister John Swinney has confirmed Nat 5 and Higher examinations are cancelled (Picture: Getty Images)

So what does this mean for exams, assessments and grading? This is what we know.

Are exams cancelled in Scottish schools?

Scottish Education Secretary John Swinney announced in December 2020 that Highers and National 5 exams would be cancelled in the summer of 2021.

The decision was based on the disruption that Covid has caused to the education system rather than safety concerns, he stressed.

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Due to homeschooling, some students may struggle to access online learning and the stress of the changes could put students at an unfair disadvantage, he said.

What disruptions have students experienced?

Schools were closed throughout the first half of the 2020 school year due to rising coronavirus cases.

Once schools reopened in August, pupils were forced to self-isolate at home if they or one of their classmates tested positive for Covid.

Schools are now closed until the end of January 2021.

While schools were originally due to reopen on 4 January in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has since announced that they will stay closed until the end of January.

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The First Minister said: “I can confirm that we have now decided to extend that date and keep schools closed to the majority of pupils until 1 February. We will review this again in mid-January.”

She added: “The change will apply to all pupils - except vulnerable children, and children of key workers. And it includes nursery schools, as well as primary and secondary schools.”

The vast majority of schoolchildren and college students are now expected to learn from home, with only vulnerable children and those of key workers being supported on campus.

This has caused concerns about a potential increase in the attainment gap between the most underprivileged students and their more affluent counterparts.

How will students be graded?

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John Swinney has confirmed exams will not be replaced by the algorithmic predictor which last year led to thousands of school pupils being judged by the school they came from, rather than their academic abilities.

Instead, in December he announced that the Scottish Government had decided to take into account children’s individual circumstances, given the anticipated greater impact on poorer children.

He said : “We hope that public health will improve in the coming months, we cannot guarantee that there will be no further disruption to pupils’ learning.

“In light of this, the question is less whether we can hold the exams safely in the spring and more whether we can do so fairly.”

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The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will work to “understand the standards required for qualifications” before applying it to “specified pieces of evidence such as coursework”.

Provisional results for individual pupils will be submitted by teachers to the SQA by 28 May 2021.