A teacher has told the First Minister how demand for counselling services in schools was “far outstripping supply” as assessments left students “struggling with anxiety and panic attacks”.

The private school teacher wrote to the First Minister to highlight their “great concern” about the impact on youngsters after the coronavirus pandemic saw formal exams scrapped for the second year in a row, with an alternative means of assessing students brought in.

But the un-named teacher – whose letter to the First Minister was published under Freedom of Information provisions – said that despite being told their grades would be determined by teachers, pupils were still having to sit “‘exams’ in everything but name”.

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They told the First Minister: “While the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) and political leaders talk of taking a ‘holistic’ approach and putting young people’s mental health at the heart of what we are doing, the reality is quite the opposite.”

The teacher went on to say that staff in the independent sector, as well as in local authority-run schools, were seeing pupils who “we might expect to cope well with exam stress in a normal year” but who, in the midst of the pandemic, were “struggling with anxiety and panic attacks and feeling quite overwhelmed”.

The teacher told Ms Sturgeon: “The demand for counselling services is far outstripping supply.

“My sense is that what pupils have found most stressful is the fact that they were told they would not have exams and that assessment would be teacher-led when in fact what they are going through right now is a diet of prelims followed immediately, with no time for remediation, by a diet of ‘exams’ in everything but name.

“This is profoundly unfair and is affecting state and private pupils alike.”

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But the teacher went on to warn that the closure of schools in the winter lockdown would have “exacerbated the already enormous gap between pupils in state and independent schools”.

In the letter, sent to Ms Sturgeon in May, the teacher said that pupils at their school had had all their lessons provided live online during the lockdown, adding: “This has not been the case in most schools, despite the best efforts of teachers in the state sector.

“Therefore, pupils at state schools now face exams they did not expect to sit, having had significantly less teacher input than their peers at private schools.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Our priority has been to ensure that our young people can achieve fair and credible grades despite the most challenging of school years.

“We owe our teachers a debt of gratitude for their hard work in helping to achieve this.

“Teachers, along with parents and young people, are represented on the National Qualifications 2021 Group, who helped develop the Alternative Certification Model.”