PARENTS have called on the Scottish Government to give a clear national lead on the future roll-out of exams to prevent public confidence in the system being further eroded.

Scotland's two national parent bodies said moves to let only one local authority delay the introduction of new school exams had created "incredible confusion" across the country.

The warning came after Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, backed controversial plans by East Renfrewshire Council to delay the introduction of new school exams as part of the roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

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The council said its schools needed more time to prepare for the new National 4 and National 5 exams – which replace Standard Grade and Intermediates – arguing that headteachers did not have enough information on the new qualifications.

The decision runs counter to national guidance that there should be no wholesale delays to the implementation of the programme to ensure parity for pupils across the country.

Despite this, Mr Russell told The Herald earlier this week that East Renfrewshire would be treated as a "special case".

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC), said: "This creates incredible confusion because, for many parents, there is already a lack of clarity about how the new qualifications system is going to work.

"Everything that has been said up to now was that a delay was only available in exceptional circumstances and it is very hard to understand how an entire local authority can viewed as an exceptional circumstance.

"This undermines confidence, which is already shaky amongst parents and it is now going to be extraordinarily difficult to refuse other local authorities the right to the same concession."

Ian Ellis, chairman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, also expressed concern.

"We need clear national direction over what is expected in future because what seems to have been forgotten here is that we are dealing with the future of pupils," he said.

"Pupils need to have a level playing field and we need the Scottish Government to provide guidance that leads to a uniform approach across the country."

The Scottish Government is also facing political pressure over the crisis. Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "This is a problem entirely of the SNP's own making and I am calling on the Cabinet Secretary to hold urgent talks before there is any further confusion.

"The very last thing Scottish education needs now is a lack of confidence in the new exams."

Hugh Henry, education spokesman for Scottish Labour added: "The Scottish Government's plans for CfE are unravelling by the day."

However, Mr Russell said: "All other authorities report that preparations are on track to deliver the new qualifications. Subject departments in schools already have the option to request a delay on implementation if they are unprepared and ... no departments have yet asked for a delay."