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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

Higher exams cancelled in Scottish schools next year

Pupils’ final grades to be based on judgment of teachers

 bSchools are working to build exam stamina in pupils after months of distance learning . Getty Images
 bSchools are working to build exam stamina in pupils after months of distance learning . Getty Images

Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be axed in Scottish schools next year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pupils’ final grades will now be based on the judgment of their performance by teachers.

Education Secretary John Swinney told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday that the decision was based on the damage the pandemic had caused to the education system, rather than safety concerns about the virus.

Mr Swinney said pupils had already lost significant learning time through isolation this year and that those from poorer backgrounds would have been worse affected.

“I will not stake the future of our Higher pupils – whether they get a place at college, university, training or work – on a lottery of whether their school was hit by Covid,” he said.

Next year’s National 5 exams in Scotland had already been cancelled, and Mr Swinney had been under pressure to make the same decision on Higher and Advanced Highers.

“Exams cannot account for differential loss of learning and could lead to unfair results for our poorest pupils," he said.

"This could lead to pupils’ futures being blighted through no fault of their own. That is simply not fair.

“While 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.

“However, there is no getting around the fact that a significant percentage of our poorest pupils have lost significantly more teaching time than other pupils.

“Changing the exams for all does not and cannot address that. Instead, we need a model that is more flexible to the specific circumstances of the individual pupil.”

There was backlash at this year’s moderation process across the UK, which disproportionately downgraded pupils from poorer backgrounds.

Although teaching groups generally welcomed Tuesday’s decision, one parents' group warned that it would have a “terrible impact” on their children’s futures.

Updated: December 8, 2020 11:38 PM

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