In a survey by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, which represents 6,500 high school headteachers and staff, 75 per cent of teachers said their pupils had difficulties providing suitable evidence to be assessed.
A total of 85 per cent send said the “collection, marking and moderation of evidence” had created “substantial additional workload for their pupils” and 92 per cent said the whole process had added to the stress of their pupils.
The poll of 1,711 teachers also found 86 per cent of teachers had pupils missing from classes when schools were open because of Covid, 90 per cent had children missing through other illness, and 78 per cent said pupils were absent because of stress.
Overall just 20 per cent of teachers believe the Alternative Certification Model (ACM), set out by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), is a fair and reasonable method of assessment, with 76 per cent calling for teacher professional judgement to be the major factor in their assessment this year.
The formal exam diet for Highers and Advanced Highers was cancelled in December for the second year running, while the National 5 qualifications, normally sat by fourth-year pupils, were also halted for the second consecutive year.
The ACM was then designed by the SQA with input from the Scottish Government’s new National Qualifications body, which included teaching union, the Educational Institute for Scotland.
However, the SSTA was not involved in the process, and Seamus Searson, the union’s general secretary, said his members’ survey responses “gave a clear indication of the difficulties teachers and pupils are facing in trying to deliver the ACM.”
He said: “The SQA is in its own world, oblivious to the real situation in schools. It has shown little understanding of the situation in schools and the damage it is doing to pupils and teachers.
“The collecting of evidence demanded by the SQA in such a short time period, without making any allowance for the disruption caused by the pandemic, is putting a heavy burden on teachers and pupils.
“Worryingly, only 36 per cent of members believed that the evidence that they have collected truly demonstrated their pupil’s attainment. This highlights the potentially high number of pupils who will get grades lower than would have been expected in a normal year.”
He added: “The SQA’s focus on collected evidence, which doesn’t adequately take into account the disruption in schools, will lead to a large number of disillusioned young people and very unhappy parents.
"The SQA must change its stance and allow the flexibility for teacher professional judgement, in addition to the collected evidence, to ensure all young people achieve the results that they deserve.”
Comments by headteachers in the survey roundly condemned the assessment process with one saying: “This whole ACM has been a nightmare of stress for both staff and pupils. I have visibly seen the stress on the faces of my staff and the pupils. This has been the worst, most pressurised time of my whole career.”
Another headteacher said: “Workload has been phenomenal. Teaching and leading for over 20 years. I have never had a workload like this year.
"My staff and I are exhausted, stressed and deeply concerned about the mental health of pupils within our care. The logistics and timescale of what we are being asked to do is unachievable within a normal working week.”
Subject teachers were also critical of the SQA, saying “crazy expectations” had put pupils “under so much stress”.
One said: “This session has been a total disaster from the SQA. Persistent changes in outgoing information have made it very frustrating with regards to keeping pupils informed and composed.
"The ACM and guidance surrounding it has only gone on to cause a total nightmare for pupils, teachers and senior managers. We have practically inherited the workload of the SQA in terms of administering, marking and moderating assessments.”
Another teacher added: “Hearing the First Minister say that there was no requirement for exams, and the Deputy First Minister/education secretary say that teachers could use professional judgement and take pupil circumstances into account, when the documentation from SQA says the opposite of this brought me great dismay.
"Parents have not read the SQA advice that we have to work to, and just hear that teachers supposedly have more control than we actually do.
"If [the] SQA did not follow the advice they were given by the politicians, then that needs looked at immediately. It is too late to institute major change, but the inclusion of teacher judgement and consideration of individual circumstances would be welcome.”
A third teacher said: “Assessments are a disgrace. They are exams pure and simple.
"Pupils, teachers and parents [are] fully aware the SQA has done nothing to aid mental health and has exacerbated the situation by providing guidance AFTER most of the course work was completed.”
Mr Searson, has now written to newly-appointed education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville asking her to call a halt to the assessment process.
In his letter, which includes the survey results, he said: "The ACM is a process that may, with some adjustments, be something that will benefit the Scottish National Qualifications in the future, but is currently causing severe problems for schools, teachers and most importantly the pupils.
"The ACM leaves no space for teacher professional judgement and makes no allowance for the disruption caused to the education system by the Covid-19 pandemic. The ACM, as it is presently constructed, and its obsession for collected evidence, will penalise a large number of pupils this year.”
He added: “The SSTA urges you to intervene and allow teachers to use their professional judgement to supplement the collected evidence and ensure no pupils are penalised this year as a consequence of the pandemic. Pupils who will not receive levels of attainment, to which they are entitled, will have an impact not only this year but may restrict any plans they may have in the remaining years at school and beyond.
A SQA spokesperson said: “We fully appreciate that the impact of Covid has been extremely challenging for learners, teachers and lecturers. Everyone is working hard to ensure young people across Scotland get the qualifications they deserve.
"The approach to certification has been developed by the National Qualifications 2021 Group, which includes the EIS, School Leaders Scotland, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and learner and parent representatives. This is a flexible framework for schools and colleges that combines professional judgement with evidence of learning.”
“As the Cabinet Secretary confirmed in Parliament the outcomes of the appeals consultation will be announced next week. This is a very important part of the overall model. Learners and teaching staff should be reassured that a comprehensive appeals process will be in place in good time.”