By Lucy Ashton
Scotland’s qualification system needs a “radical” overhaul that better supports teachers and young people, the new education secretary has said.
Jenny Gilruth was speaking as pupils across the country sat down for the first written exams of the 2023 diet.
This is the last year any modifications will be made to mitigate disruption caused by Covid.
Next year the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) plans to set exams back to pre-pandemic norms.
Last month an interim report, commissioned by the Scottish government to examine the future of assessment in the nation’s schools, said the current exam system was no longer fit for purpose.
A final version of the review, by Prof Louise Hayward, is set to be published next month.
Ms Gilruth told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I think it is really important that what comes next, any incarnation in the future, must better support our teachers in our schools but it also must better support young people.”
She also dismissed the suggestion that future reform would be anything more than a rebranding exercise.
Ms Gilruth added: “It needs to be radical. It needs to better support the profession and those in our schools.”
Prof Hayward’s report also proposed the introduction of a Scottish diploma of achievement – a qualification or graduation certificate that would provide evidence of pupils’ achievements.
Ms Gilruth said there was a need to “future-proof our qualifications” and told the programme they may look “radically different” in the future.
She also said it was essential that pupils were assessed continuously throughout the academic year.
Meanwhile, Ms Gilruth denied the decision to pull out of international education league tables, which First Minister Humza Yousaf reversed last week, was designed to hide sliding performance.
The former teacher also said a “relentless focus” should be trained on closing the poverty-related attainment gap by 2026.
But Ms Gilruth added: “I am also mindful that schools have been dealing with, as I have alluded to, the impacts of Covid and the impacts of the cost of living crisis.
“That has been really challenging in our classrooms and we need to be really mindful of that in government too.”
Parent groups said disruption from teacher strikes mean some young people are still feeling the pressure of catching up.
They, and unions, said extra support would still be needed for pupils who have only known disruption at high school.
S4 pupil Reagan is 16 and preparing to sit six National 5 exams. She hopes to study law at the University of Glasgow.
Living in Glasgow, her school was targeted for multiple strike days because it was in a prominent MSP’s constituency.
She said: “The pandemic happened when I was in S1. It didn’t affect me too much. But with the strikes it was quite hard on me and my friends.
“During our prelims, the teachers were on strike the day before so we couldn’t really talk to them or go over anything we were worried about.”
Her mum, Lucia told BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime programme it was a concerning time: “I was very worried and we didn’t know if it would affect her.
“When we knew the strikes were coming we tried to get her prepared from the teachers in advance.”
Amy, 16, is also in S4 but felt the strikes did not affect her too much. She told BBC Scotland: “I am a bit stressed but I worked hard over the Easter holidays so I feel prepared.”
On the strikes, she said “I was stressed that I wouldn’t be in school but I wrote questions down and then brought them in to school.”
Patrick McGlinchey from parental engagement charity Connect, thinks support is still vital for the Covid generation.
“What we need now is a period of stability and balance – that is what parents are telling us – and that means additional support for young people through this period from national government and those national bodies.”
Scotland is currently in the middle of a massive rethink of its education system.
Last year’s OECD independent review led to the announcement that the SQA was to be replaced as part of an overhaul of education.
The report backed the curriculum as a whole but said there was too much focus on exams in later years of schooling.
Unions said they were wary of plunging young people into the “business-as-usual” SQA diet next year only to change the system again post-Hayward review.
The SSTA have threatened to boycott exams in 2024 if they go ahead in this format.
Scotland’s largest teaching union believes Covid modifications should remain and added supports the idea of less exams.
Andrea Bradley, general secretary of the EIS, said: “We should not be putting young people unnecessarily through exams on an annual basis.
“It does not leave the necessary time and space for depth and enjoyment of learning. It places too much stress on too many young people and really exacerbates workload issues for teachers.
“We think there is a much more considered way to do things that is much more fitting for education in the 21st century.”
Meanwhile, LibDem spokesman Willie Rennie accused the SNP of being “sleekit”.
He said: “Sleekit excuses on an early morning radio interview don’t wipe out the solemn promises by the former First Minister on an election platform.
“Closing the poverty related attainment gap was the promise and that is what young people are expecting. If that isn’t delivered, the SNP will have gone back on their word.”
On plans for education governance and exam reform, Mr Rennie added:”Without new national education bodies, there will be little confidence that the mistakes of the past have been learned. There is great suspicion that the reform bodies will be the same old organisations under a different name.”