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Nicola Sturgeon has said it is her “firm intention” that senior students at secondary schools will sit exams this year.
But she said the Covid pandemic meant she could not guarantee this would happen, as she said “sensible and appropriate” contingencies had been put in place.
The First Minister was quizzed on the matter after her Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, told how the situation was being kept under review, adding that the “very latest” a final decision could be made on the exam diet was the end of March.
Tories and Liberal Democrats both pressed Ms Sturgeon on the situation at First Minister’s Questions, claiming “confusion” over what would happen risked causing more disruption for students.
For the last two years, the pandemic has meant exams for Highers and other formal qualifications have been unable to take place, with pupils instead given grades based on their teachers’ assessment of performance.
Ms Sturgeon said that could happen again this year, if the public health advice was that it was not safe for exams to take place.
“Given we’re still living through a global pandemic, contingencies are needed in education as in all other aspects of life right now,” she told MSPs.
But the First Minster said she hoped such contingencies would not be required, stressing: “Our firm intention this year is that exams will go ahead.”
Conservative education spokesman, Oliver Mundell, said Ms Sturgeon “should be guaranteeing exams take place this year”.
He argued: “Contingencies are needed but not the type her Government proposes.
“What has happened to suggestions of acquiring larger community spaces? What about additional invigilators in place? And what about one-to-one support, most importantly, for those young people who have lost out on their learning?”
The CabSec has made a right mess of announcement on exams. SQA had to step in to clarify and still very unclear on the framework & timetable. Confused pupils preparing for their exams right now have been badly let down by the ScotGov. As usual, the FM is ready to blame others. pic.twitter.com/Z8GCAmQGsU
— Willie Rennie (@willie_rennie) January 13, 2022
Ms Sturgeon pledged that “if education is further disrupted, because of developments in the pandemic, than additional support will be provided for those studying for exams”.
But she also stated: “The second contingency is that if public health advice says it isn’t safe for young people to come together to sit exams in the traditional way, then we go back to a situation akin to the last two years where we would have teacher judgment coming to bear instead of exams.”
However, she said: “We don’t want have to use either of those contingencies because we want exams to go ahead because we think that is in the interests of young people.
“Oliver Mundell asks me to guarantee things. I would really love to be able to guarantee all sorts of things but we are still living through a global pandemic.
“We have had two new variants of this in the last few months alone, none of us can guarantee the immediate future in the context of this pandemic, but we make plans based on what we hope will be the case.
“And, right now, that is to allow young people to sit their exams this year as normal, but have sensible and appropriate contingencies in place in case something happens that makes that impossible.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Willie Rennie, however, claimed Ms Somerville had made “made a right mess of this”, accusing the Education Secretary of making “conflicting statements” on the matter.
He demanded: “Does the First Minister think this is the right way to treat pupils preparing for exams right now?”
Ms Sturgeon, however, insisted claims of confusion were a “complete misrepresentation of the position”.
She told MSPs: “The Education Secretary set out in a statement to this Parliament, I think in August last year, what the intention was of the Scottish Government in relation to exams this year, that exams would go ahead.
“She was reflecting, as I was reflecting, when we are living through a global pandemic there has to be contingencies in place.
“But that intention for exams to go ahead hasn’t changed.”