Go-ahead for Higher exams to be decided before February deadline

A decision on the holding of Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be made before the February deadline, the Education Secretary has said.

National 5 exams have already been cancelled in Scotland due to the Covid-19 pandemic but a decision on the more advanced tests have been given the provisional go-ahead by John Swinney.

However, despite a final decision being expected by mid-February, for the exams usually held in May, the Education Secretary has said an announcement will be made earlier.

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The topic will be up for discussion this week by the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group – a body set up by the Scottish Government in response to the pandemic – but the final decision will be for Mr Swinney.

National 5 exams have already been cancelled in Scotland due to the Covid-19 pandemic but a decision on the more advanced tests have been given the provisional go-ahead by John Swinney. (Photo by Fraser Bremner - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Speaking at a fringe event of the SNP conference on Saturday, hosted by teaching union EIS, Mr Swinney said: “I’m not going to leave it until February.

“I’ve said that’s the backstop but I appreciate that’s too late in the year for that.”

The most important issue when making the decision is the impact coronavirus has had on pupils and the inequalities it could cause, he said.

“The key issue, and we’re gathering data about this, is what’s the degree of disruption to a candidate’s learning because that’s the crucial point in whether I can be assured there can be the fair delivery of a diet to all candidates.”

“If you’re in an area where one child has not had any period of self-isolation but another child has had three periods of self- isolation, there’s big equity issues around that.

“The key consideration… is there equity of learning for all candidates, and that will shape my judgment.”

The news comes after a recent survey by the National Parent Forum of Scotland found that more than half (50.6%) of the 4,196 parents or carers asked wanted the exams cancelled.

Just over a quarter (26.6%) said they wished the assessments to go ahead, while 22.8% were undecided.

Mr Swinney was less clear when asked if teachers would be considered a priority group for the Covid-19 vaccine, when it was made available.

Responding to a question from an SNP member at the event, he said the vaccination programme outlined by Health Secretary Jeane Freeman in Holyrood earlier this month prioritised health care workers, vulnerable people and those most likely to be exposed to the virus.

The Scottish Government has said up to 320,000 doses of the vaccine could be distributed around the country by the second week in December, while up to a million people may be inoculated by the end of January.

“There’s essentially a combination between the approach to the vaccine which will be clinically driven judgments and the expansion of the testing regime,” Mr Swinney said.

“Given the scale of the rollout of the vaccination programme, which will be significant from December onwards, there will obviously be a very intense focus on making sure we get that vaccination programme carried out across the population and that will, of course, include teachers.”

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