Coronavirus: School exam timetable could be put back next year

By Bill Heaney

Education Secretary John Swinney said today (Sunday) that he understood the anxiety amongst parents about sending children back to school in August, which he said would be a legal requirement.

“We will have considered discussions with parents about the issues about which they are concerned,” he said.

Jim Halfpenny, of West Dunbartonshire EIS, the teachers’ trade union, took the sting out of the Deputy First Minister’s remark.

Education Secretary John Swinney and Jim Halfpenny, of the EIS.

He told The Democrat: “I think that John Swinney, in his interview this morning, recognises the concerns of parents sending their children back to school.

“I don’t think that his comment on the legal requirement to ensure that parents send their children to school was meant as a threat.

“Importantly, he accepts that pupils and staff should only return to school when it is safe to do so based on scientific advice.

“For us, this is a crucial requirement that West Dunbartonshire Council must address.

“However, this critical consideration of local infection rates has not been part of their plans for reopening schools in August. This gives us cause for concern.”

Meanwhile, the main thrust of Mr Swinney’s interview with Gordon Brewer on the BBC Scotland Politics programme was that next year’s exams may take place later than normal.

The Education Secretary  said it was possible the timetable could be put back to allow courses to be completed.

Normally the diet begins towards the end of April. This year, exams were cancelled for the first time ever.

Mr Swinney accepted next year’s exams could also have to be cancelled but was hopeful that would not happen.

“The exam diet is being prepared for the spring of 2021 and our working assumption is that it will take place,” he said.

“We have also said to schools that they should be gathering evidence of the achievements of young people on an ongoing basis in case we are not in a position to be able to run the exam diet in the spring of next year.

“It normally starts in late April, it might be possible that we could start it later in the year.”

The longer these emergency arrangements continue, the harder it will be to complete National 5 and Higher courses.

Mr Swinney said he hoped the blended model would not go on for a moment longer than necessary.

The fact students hoping to go to college or university next autumn would need their results by a certain date means there are practical limitations on how long any postponement of the exams could be.

The SSTA union has already called for next year’s exam diet to be cancelled.

The largest union, the EIS, had previously argued that some students should not sit exams next year – such as S4 students who intended to continue with a subject in S5.

Mr Swinney also told the programme he was confident schools could go back on 11 August and hoped the “blended” model of home and face-to-face learning would not go on for “a minute longer” than was necessary.

However, he said he accepted it was “unlikely” that schools would return to normal before the end of the academic year due to social distancing.

“The more we can try to expand the capacity and involvement of young people in their education in face-to-face schooling we will be taking those opportunities when it is safe to do so,” he said.

Cllr Jonathan McColl refused to comment to The Democrat on the EIS statement that teachers the union was “alarmed” that some teachers had gone back before receiving assurances on safety from the Council.

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