Nicola Sturgeon has resisted calls for Higher and Advanced Higher exams to be cancelled, but acknowledged there is a “strong argument” for a decision on whether they will go ahead to be made sooner than planned.
Both leaders of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens have urged the First Minister to cancel next year’s exams, as has already been decided for the National 5 assessments.
Education Secretary John Swinney has said the current position is that the Higher and Advanced Higher exams will take place, but a final decision will be made by mid-February on whether to cancel them.
During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “This year is going to be incredibly unfair for anyone who has exams.
“The Scottish Greens first called for this year’s exams to be cancelled in May when it became clear that this would be a year unlike any other.
“Young people have experienced enough stress and anxiety this year to last a lifetime. And, as is often the case, it’s those from the most deprived communities who’ve been disproportionately affected.
“So isn’t it time that the First Minister gave teachers and young people the clarity they need and accepted that Higher and Advanced Higher exams cannot go ahead in the coming year?”
Ms Sturgeon insisted the Government is considering “very, very carefully” if the exams should go ahead, and appeared to concede a decision may be made sooner than February.
She said: “We ideally want Higher and Advanced Higher exams to proceed, but the public health advice must allow that and it must be not just safe to do so but it must be safe to all learners, and we absolutely recognise that.
“That’s why we are monitoring the position closely and continuing to listen to all views on this matter.
“We know there is potential for further disruption, which is why contingency plans for Higher and Advanced Higher courses are being developed and the Deputy First Minister has made clear that a final decision on Higher and Advanced Highers will be taken no later than mid-February – but it will be taken sooner than that if the evidence suggests that that is the right thing to do.”
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie also called for the exams to be cancelled.
He said that on any given day, up to 30,000 pupils and 1,500 teachers are off school due to Covid-19.
“That means we need an effective alternative to those Higher and Advanced Higher exams,” he said. “But to make that happen, teachers and students need plenty of warning.
“The longer the Government waits, the less time teachers have to prepare, the greater the problem becomes.”
He asked if the First Minister will “think again” and cancel the assessments.
Ms Sturgeon said the Government is “thinking hard” about the issue, but added there is “no easy answer”.
She said: “It’s important that we take the time to get this right, because that matters to all young people.”
A survey by the National Parent Forum of Scotland published last week found a majority of Scottish parents believe exams for Higher and Advanced Higher should be cancelled next year, with a decision made before Christmas.
Just over a quarter of parents (26.6%) believe the exams should go ahead in 2021, while 50.6% want them to be cancelled, according to the poll of 4,196 parents and carers.
A total of 22.8% said they were undecided.
The poll also found 75% of parents believe it should be announced before Christmas whether the exams will go ahead.
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