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Exam plan questioned as pupils sent home

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Scotland’s education secretary has been asked to explain how exams can be held fairly this year as it emerged that one in eight pupils were off school last week, with Covid responsible for a rising number of absences.

Increasing concern over exams comes as parents warn some health authorities are ordering too many children into isolation after school outbreaks.

Last week, NHS Highland sent letters to parents at a primary school in Argyll and Bute asking them to keep their children at home because of suspected Covid cases within a class even if they were testing negative and had no symptoms.

The following day, parents were told the scare was over and pupils could return if they had tested negative and were still not awaiting a test result.

One parent, whose daughter was recently told to stay at home despite testing negative and having no symptoms, said: “We were told her whole class had to isolate and miss school, regardless. There has been a lot of confusion among parents because the advice does not seem to tally with the overall government advice on isolating.”

There were 32,000 pupils absent from school for Covid-related reasons in Scotland on Wednesday. This was up from 25,000 the previous week. Nearly 2,500 teachers were also off work.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish Government’s education secretary, has said pupil absences will not lead to the cancellation of exams for a third year running and has vowed to provide pupils who have missed school with extra support to pass their assessments.

National 5s and Highers in the spring will be cancelled only if Covid cases spiral out of control again and make it too challenging for pupils to gather safely in packed exam rooms.

Meghan Gallacher, who is the Scottish Conservative’s children’s spokeswoman, said ministers must guarantee that exams would go ahead. “After two years of cancellations, pupils, parents and teachers have suffered enough frustration and confusion and want some certainty and normality.”

Larry Flanagan of the EIS teachers’ trade union said it was essential students were treated fairly and not disadvantaged by coronavirus isolation.