FMQs: Douglas Ross seeks commitment to retain school exams from Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon came under fire at Holyrood after refusing to say if pupils will sit exams next year or if the Scottish Government had plans to scrap the traditional assessments.

Exams were cancelled this year and last due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ms Sturgeon said ministers would be monitoring the situation with the virus over the summer before announcing in August if exams would take place in 2022.

She said experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) would submit a report to ministers that same month, which would "help to inform" decisions on the future of exams.

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At First Minister's Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said “there is a debate in Scotland right now about what the correct balance between traditional exams and continuous assessment is”.

Douglas Ross pushed Nicola Sturgeon on the question of retaining exams.
Douglas Ross pushed Nicola Sturgeon on the question of retaining exams.

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However, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “After being in government for 14 years, First Minister for seven, and having pledged education would be her number one priority, I think people across Scotland will expect the First Minister to be able to say if she is for or against exams.”

Ms Sturgeon stressed there was a need to “get all of this right” as she said ministers had to carefully consider the place of “traditional exams” within the “future of qualifications”.

She said: "No decisions have been taken around that.”

Mr Ross cited comments from education expert Professor Lindsay Paterson that it was “unlikely that a system that relied wholly on course work would ever command public confidence” and urged the First Minister not to ditch traditional exams.

"Scottish Conservatives firmly believe that traditional exams are the best and fairest way for young people to show what they know and what they can do,” he said.

"Her [Ms Sturgeon’s] government no longer seems to value the traditions that have served us well, that helped the First Minister and I get from a great local school to this Parliament.

“Our education system has always been distinct. It is uniquely our own, a cornerstone of what makes us Scottish.

“If the SNP remove the focus on fundamentals, if they stop valuing core knowledge, if they ditch exams, isn't her government abandoning the very things that made Scotland's schools great?”

Ms Sturgeon said exams were “important”, but the “most important principle” is for the country to “have a robust and respected system for awarding qualifications to young people”.

She said: “We have asked the OECD to do further work. They will report to us in August. We will take account of all of that and this Parliament then will have the opportunity to debate this.”

Pupils across Scotland are preparing to find out what grades they have been awarded for qualifications based on teacher assessments this year, although concerns have been raised about schools “moderating” the results to keep them in line with past grades.

After FMQs, Mr Ross said: “Pupils and teachers have been left in limbo on whether the First Minister intends to try and return to normality and hold traditional exams next year.

“It’s no longer clear if the SNP Government even supports traditional exams at all. Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t answer the basic question if she’s for or against them.”

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