Covid in Scotland: Scottish pupils sitting ‘exams by another name’

2 weeks ago
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Pupils and teachers have told BBC Scotland that assessments some senior pupils will be sitting in the coming weeks are “exams by another name”.

This year’s National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers were cancelled because of disruption caused by the pandemic.

Grades are to be given on “teacher judgement” but that needs to be backed up by evidence gathered in tests.

Some schools are setting these tests in conditions which are very similar to exams but with much less preparation.

The approach across schools varies with some spreading the tests over several class lesson times but others doing them all in one go, with invigilators on hand to make sure strict exam conditions are met.

The system is being described as unfair by pupils and parents.

Sixteen-year-old Deni, who is doing her Highers, has started a petition asking for these final assessments to be scrapped.

The petition says that after being in school for just four months and then having to learn remotely since the New Year she is now being told there will be a “final assessment” after the Easter holidays on which her grade will be primarily based.

“Why not just call it an exam?” she says.

Deni, from Dundee, says students now need to try to revise a whole year’s work for courses that most have not yet finished and which, for much of it, they have had to teach themselves.

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Analysis box by Lucy Whyte, BBC Scotland education correspondent

This is the second year without senior students sitting final exams.

Last year, the decision to scrap them was made in a rush and with no warning.

This year it was made with more foresight in a bid to tackle “unfairness” caused by repeated periods of Covid-related isolation for some students and not others.

However, the perception of unfairness might be one which is hard to shake.

Teachers have been given guidance on how to come up with pupils’ estimated grades, but they have also been given some flexibility.

It means that the experiences of young people in schools across the country could be totally different, the very situation everyone was hoping to avoid.

The authorities will say that “quality assurance checks” will make up for this.

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‘Quite worrying’

Dylan is taking his Highers but when final end of year exams were cancelled he was told grades would be based on an overall teacher judgement of coursework and class tests.

Dylan says he has been told his grades will mainly be based on assessments

Now Dylan says he has been told his grades will mainly be based on assessments he will sit in the coming weeks.

“I’m really worried because normally we have at least nine months in advance knowing when our exams are going to be and I only got told this morning that I have got one in three weeks,” Dylan says.

“It does not feel great. It’s quite worrying, especially since we have to be in class the rest of the time as well.”

When this year’s exams were cancelled, guidance was given to schools advising them the most robust way to gather evidence for grades was through class tests based on questions provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

It has led to schools doing this in different ways – with some planning to do these tests spread over different class times while others are setting them up much closer to an exam style – but without study leave.

BBC Scotland has also spoken to teachers who think the system is unfair.

Geography teacher Brian Donlin says some children are sitting exams

Brian Donlin, who teaches geography, says the way schools are carrying out these assessments is wildly different.

“How can we turn around and say that that we are ensuring consistency across a national level?,” he says. “We can’t fundamentally, you just can’t.

“Let’s not kid ourselves on, there are some kids across Scotland who are sitting exams this year.”

The Scottish Qualifications Authority said it had “made it clear that there is no requirement to replicate a full formal exam or prelim diet”.

It said it had provided detailed guidance to schools and there was flexibility on how assessment evidence was gathered.

“Schools and colleges know their learners best, so it is appropriate that they deliver assessments which suit their circumstances this year,” the SQA said.

“Evidence requirements have been significantly reduced – it is about quality, not quantity.”

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BBC News – Scotland

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