'No movement' towards repeating school year for Scottish pupils, say independent schools

Private schools and universities have cast doubt on the credibility of suggestions that Scottish pupils could be forced to retake an entire school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reports in the Mail on Sunday suggested the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Education Recovery Group was examining plans which could see the awarding of any qualifications abandoned and pupils required to retake a year of school.

The Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS) also stated there was “no movement” within their sector towards children being asked to repeat a year.

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John Edward, director at the SCIS, said that fee-paying schools were delivering online learning and they did not see the need for a year’s pause in the awarding of qualification certificates.

Independent schools have said they are not planning for pupils to repeat a year of education.

Mr Edward said: "Independent schools repurposed their facilities and expertise for effective and live remote learning options in the last lockdown and have returned to that this term. This is combined with background work for pupils, well-being support, advice on mental and physical health and extra-curricular challenges.

"As a result of exams being cancelled, they have used the extra time to move ahead to the next year's syllabus. Since the announcements on national qualifications, as well as GCSE and A-level, schools have been working hard to accumulate the necessary evidence to offer accurate grades for pupils this year – as they did last summer.

"There is certainly no movement for a whole year's pause, nor is there need, in the independent sector."

It is also understood that Scotland’s university sector is yet to be briefed on such plans in any detail despite the inevitable knock-on effect to higher education finances, which are already being stretched thin by the pandemic.

This suggests that any plans being discussed by the Scottish Government are yet to be considered credibly enough to brief the wider education sector.

Universities would be hit hard by a pause to certifications due to an expected steep drop in the number of new students for the 2021/22 academic year.

As it stands, pupils in exam years will be awarded grades based on the estimates of their teachers, with work undertaken during the year used as supporting evidence for the SQA’s moderation.

This would see most students who were sitting Highers or Advanced Highers be given the grades necessary to be able to progress to University in September.

Universities are understood to need assurances on guaranteed student numbers before supporting a delay of qualification awards.

Speaking on Monday at her daily coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon said there were “no plans” to ask young people to repeat a year.

The First Minister said: “We have no plans to ask young people to repeat a year.

"We continue to look at all ways in which we can support young people during a very difficult time and the SQA, the Scottish Government and Education Scotland keep the whole issue under review on an ongoing basis.”

As it stands, schools are shut to most pupils due to Covid-19 until at least mid-February in Scotland, with concerns being raised around the quality of blended learning for many pupils.

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