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MSP John Swinney said work is under way for exams in Scotland which were cancelled this year to be held in spring 2021. But he warned the “ongoing impacts” of COVID-19 meant he couldn’t say “with absolute certainty” that they would be able to take place, meaning they could be pushed back to a later date.
His comments provoked a backlash from opposition members claiming that the move would have a “severe impact on learning”.
Mr Swinney told MSPs on Holyrood’s Education Committee yesterday: “Although we are planning for an exam diet I cannot say with absolute certainty that it will be able to take place.
“So we are asking schools to gather evidence on an ongoing basis to support judgments that may be required to be made in the spring of 2021.
“The current model for the delivery of education is not as effective as the model we had prior to COVID.”
He also admitted that the Scottish government’s blended learning model which will see pupils returning to classes part-time in August with some learning also being done from home will mean “educational outcomes will be jeopardised”.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is making preparations for next year but Mr Swinney said that they have been in touch with schools to make staff aware of the back up measures.
Sutherland MSP Gail Ross told the Education Secretary a “lot of parents are absolutely dreading” the blended learning system after “struggling” with homeschooling.
Green MSP Ross Greer said that “inevitably” the blended learning will have an impact on learning.
The Scottish Greens education spokesman also questioned why exams could still be “conducted in a normal manner, at the end of a very abnormal [school] year”.
In response, Mr Swinney told Mr Greer: “We are planning on the basis of the SQA diet taking place in the spring of 2021 but I am not impervious to the issues that he raises, which I recognise are significant issues we have to consider and judge.”
He added: “The last thing I want is young people are not in any way able to properly realise their potential and the benefit of the learning activity they have undertaken.
“We’re trying to approach the school year from a perspective of minimising disruption, of maximising the opportunities for assistance in learning.”
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He stressed that going against the scientific advice on this will be a “recipe for anarchy in the way in which we pursue our approach”.
Mr Swinney said he wants children to be in school “for as close to 50 percent” as is possible but acknowledged that in some circumstances this will not be possible because of the two-metre social distancing rule.
But he stressed: “I don’t want the blended learning model to go on for a minute longer than is required.
“I do not want this to be a long-term educational model for Scotland.
“I don’t think it is the best educational model but it is the best educational model in the circumstances that we face, because I can not ignore the public health advice and issues that we face.”