HANDWRITTEN exams in Scottish schools will begin to be phased out over the next decade, the national qualifications body has said.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said it would be much more unusual to have handwritten exams in future.

Her comments came as digital technology is increasingly used in schools for both coursework and assessments.

The vast majority of exams are still paper-based, but the SQA has looked at a number of alternatives including electronic assessments for some qualifications as well as online marking.

However, there have been concerns the roll-out out of electronic exams would create inequalities if suitable equipment was not available in all schools.

Mrs Brown told the Times Educational Supplement Scotland: “The day is not tomorrow that we’ll move away from paper, but I would be surprised if we still had handwritten exams within ten years for a significant number of subjects.

“We will still always need paper exams for subjects such as art and design, but electronic assessment is already used for some courses and society is going that way.

“Before an entire education system moved in that direction you need to make sure no-one is disadvantaged.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said schools were increasingly making greater use of technology, but handwriting would continue to be important.

He said: “The nature of assessments, including exams, will continue to evolve to reflect the changing nature of both learning and technology.

“However, the effective use of handwriting remains an important skill for young people to learn and continues to be a point of emphasis in our schools across a wide range of curricular areas.”

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, also stressed the importance of pupils having writing and keyboard skills.

She said: “That a lot of what we do in the future will be computer-based is undoubted, but the skill to write will still be required for some areas of our lives.

“Touch typing was taught many years ago, but few people use it now and it would be invaluable to many.”

In 2014 the SQA suggested greater use of computer-based assessments to combat poor handwriting skills.

A report into that year’s Higher English exam revealed markers had identified “near-illegible” sentences on the papers submitted by some students.

The SQA review said: “More markers than ever commented on the poor, sometime near-illegible, handwriting of some candidates, which made it extremely difficult and time-consuming to mark the essay.

“While no candidate’s work is ever left unmarked for this reason, centres should do their best to reduce this problem by making alternative arrangements for some candidates.”

The warnings come as concerns mount that teenagers brought up using email, texting and web-based social media sites to communicate have lost the ability to work with a pen and paper.

Handwriting has not only been shown to support literacy skills such as reading, writing and speaking, but research also shows it develops areas of the brain that improve wider learning skills.

In 2015, it was widely reported that Finnish schools were phasing out handwriting in favour of keyboard skills.

This year it emerged that Cambridge University is seeking to scrap exams written with a pen and paper due to the deterioration of students’ handwriting.