EDUCATION: Swinney ‘confident’ exam results fiasco will not be repeated

By Rory Murphy

Education secretary John Swinney has insisted he is confident there will be no repeat of last year’s exam results fiasco.

Almost 125,000 results were downgraded in 2020 which led to students taking to the streets to protest against the system of awarding grades.

Ministers have cancelled the spring exam diet for the second year in a row due to the pandemic, but Swinney said the authorities have “much more time to prepare” for the situation this time around.

Last year results were downgraded by the moderation system that had been put in place following the axing of the exams.

Swinney, right, cancelled the spring exam diet for the second year in a row.

The subsequent outcry over the system resulted in a U-turn by the Scottish Government, with pupils eventually awarded the marks originally estimated by their teachers.

Swinney, who apologised to students after the problems experienced in 2020, said last year had seen authorities faced with an “emergency situation”.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday that an approach has been put in place now which “enables the learning of young people to be properly assessed by teaching staff, reflecting the standards we expect in the qualifications”.

He added education authorities have also allocated more time for information to be gathered, with the collection of final estimates for qualifications pushed back until June 18.

Comparing the situation to last year, he said: “We have had much more time to prepare for this. We have had much more dialogue involving local authorities, the professional associations and also young people themselves to make sure that the steps can be put in place.

“We had to deal with an emergency situation last summer and it was difficult, and I have been very candid about how difficult that was, but we have had the time to invest in understanding standards, in making sure staff are supported in the work that has got to be undertaken to assess the work of young people.

“What we’ve got to make sure of now is that despite the fact that we have been operating in a remote learning environment since the turn of the year, that there has been adequate opportunity to undertake the learning and teaching to enable young people to perform well in the qualifications, and I am confident that is taking place.”

The 2021 exams were scrapped at the end of last year amid concerns that pupils who have needed to repeatedly self-isolate would be left at a disadvantage.

Meanwhile, the phased return to schools announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday could allow some senior students working towards qualifications to get back in class later this month.

Swinney stressed that will involve only “limited numbers of senior phase pupils” who need to be in class for “essential practical work that cannot be undertaken remotely”.

The conversation in the corridors has been all about getting back to school after coronavirus.

He said: “Schools that would normally accommodate hundreds and hundreds of pupils, in some cases well over 1000 pupils, will actually be accommodating relatively small numbers of pupils and that will enable extensive physical distancing to be in place, and many of the mitigation measures that are essential to ensure it is a safe environment for staff and pupils.”

Parents and carers across Argyll and Bute, which includes Helensburgh and the Lochside, are being thanked by the Council for their home learning efforts during lockdown.

The Council’s Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, left, said: “As we approach the February break, I want to take a moment to thank parents and carers for all their patience, huge effort and understanding while our schools have been closed during lockdown.

“Home learning isn’t easy. The vast majority of you aren’t teachers and it’s important to remember that. Many of you are also trying to teach your children while juggling home working and this must be incredibly difficult.

“I’ve spoken to parents and I know that many of you are really struggling, but I want to reassure you that you’re all doing a fabulous job. Home learning shouldn’t result in daily arguments, stress and resentment so please, please don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself or your children during what is already a difficult, challenging time.

“At the end of the day, you didn’t sign up to this. The most important thing is to ensure your children are cared for and feel loved. Remember, this is an uncertain time them too: their routines have been turned completely upside down; they’re unable to see their friends and teachers; they can’t go outside and play whenever they’d like; and their mental health is vulnerable.

“I know that schools are assigning tasks via Google Classroom and this is great, but if your child doesn’t manage to complete everything on this, that’s okay. Children and young people are learning all the time, their brains are like sponges, so just because you didn’t finish a task doesn’t mean they’ve not learned anything.

“Not all children are the same and not all children learn the same way either. While some are happy to get their head down and do English and maths, others struggle, and that’s really difficult. Children will catch up with their learning as soon as they’re back in school so please, please don’t worry. We will get through this together. Wishing you all a well-earned break from home learning next week. Stay safe.”

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