Senior pupils should be considered for early return to schools, says EIS

Pupils who were due to sit exams this year should possibly be allowed to return to school before other children in order for teacher assessments to be carried out, MSPs have heard.

Holyrood's education committee was also told by teacher union representatives there was “anxiety and concern” about how an assessment process would be conducted if remote-learning continues past January.

They also stressed that current online schooling was to be focused on learning and not on gathering “evidence” for assessing grades.

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Last month Education Secretary John Swinney announced that Highers and Advanced Highers would be cancelled for the second year running as a result of the pandemic.

Exams have been cancelled but there are now concerns over how school pupils will be assessed.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, told MSPs that as a result of lockdown it could be “some time before we get children back into school” and as a result “the teacher assessment and materials they’re expected to provide will become less reliable”.

He said: “This year we need to just rely on teacher assessment, teacher judgement and if they have some evidence to support then they can use that, but I feel what we’ve got at the moment is a number of stages of moderation, assessment, verification, all sorts of terms being used, and we’ll end up with more scrutiny on a piece of work than relying on the judgement of the teachers."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the “alternative assessment model” would be “based on evidence produced by the pupils and we should be confident of that – it won't be based on an SQA algorithm or a factoring in of past school performance”.

But he said while teachers should not be “looking to gather assessment evidence during this remote learning period”, there will “come a point when, if senior phase pupils are not back in schools, there will be practical difficulties around how you produce the evidence on which professional judgement is made”.

“If we are in a lockdown scenario at Easter, there would be significant challenges around how we even progress the alternative assessment model,” he said.

“All those scenarios need to be worked through, but there's no immediate answer available … but by early February we will have to see what the reality is and it may be in any phased reopening of schools you might want to prioritise senior phase pupils.”

Richard Bell, of the NASUWT union, said more trust had to be placed on teachers.

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“There needs to be urgent thought about how we do manage this situation in a way that doesn’t overburden young people or their teachers,” he said.

"Internal processes can be extremely over-bureaucratic and over burdensome and there needs to be more focus on teacher trust and professional judgement and not this checking-over-the-shoulder approach.”

MSPs also heard from Fiona Robertson, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, who admitted there was a need to “work through” the implications of the lockdown and remote learning, and assured them it was happening “at pace”.

She agreed that senior phase pupils could return first or return for assessment, but the SQA was likely to consult on a set of proposals, including how appeals could work, next month and that teachers would not be expected to “rank” pupils as they had done last year.

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