SCOTLAND's exam diet could once again be cancelled next year as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact schools.

Education Secretary John Swinney told MSPs on Holyrood’s Education Committee today that schools are being urged to put preparations in place for such consequences.  

Mr Swinney said work is under way for Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams – which were cancelled this year – to be held in spring 2021.

But he warned the “ongoing impacts” of Covid-19 mean he cannot say “with absolute certainty” these will be able to take place.

So what could happen instead?

In case exams cannot take place for the second year in a row in 2021, Mr Swinney said the SQA has been in touch with schools to make staff aware of the need to gather information and evidence on students’ performance throughout the forthcoming academic year.

Further guidance will also be issued about “collecting information and evidence to support the judgments about the achievements of young people”.

The Education Secretary added: “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.”

What more do we know about blended learning?

Speaking to Holyrood’s Education Committee, Mr Swinney conceded the blended learning model – with pupils returning to classes part-time in August with some learning also being done from home – will mean “educational outcomes will be jeopardised”.

Mr Swinney told MSPs on Holyrood’s Education Committee: “The current model for the delivery of education is not as effective as the model we had prior to Covid.”

SNP MSP Gail Ross told the Education Secretary a “lot of parents are absolutely dreading” the blended learning system after “struggling” with home schooling.

Mr Swinney said he wants children to be in school “for as close to 50%” as is possible, although he added in some circumstances this will not be possible because of the two-metre social distancing rule.

Going against the scientific advice on this will be a “recipe for anarchy in the way in which we pursue our approach”, he said.

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.”

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Greens education spokesman Ross Greer said “inevitably” the blended learning will have an impact on learning, as he questioned why exams could still be “conducted in a normal manner, at the end of a very abnormal [school] year”.

Mr Swinney said these are “significant issues we have to consider and judge”.

He said: “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.”

He 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.”