EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney is unable to rule out next year’s school exams being cancelled due to Covid-19 but he confirmed pupils going back in a blended learning model on August 11 is “set in stone”. 

Mr Swinney addressed MSPs remotely as he published the scientific advice the Scottish Government’s decision on re-opening schools has been based on. 

The evidence shows that “younger children may be less susceptible to infection from Covid-19 than adults” but warns that “there is insufficient evidence to determine whether older children have differing susceptibility to infection from adults”. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: 2020 exam season cancelled for first time in history

Mr Swinney said: “The majority view of the advisory group is that it is necessary to consider actions to support physical distancing guidance in schools and situations where children are indoors for extended periods of time. 

“It follows that almost all children and young people across Scotland will therefore experience a blend of  in-school and in-home learning from 11 August 2020. This will bring benefits including an early return to school for many and the ability of all learners to engage with weekly in-home learning tasks. 

“The scientific advice that we have received so far leads us towards taking a cautious approach and we will continue to monitor the evidence and advice to inform decisions.” 

Conservative education spokesperson, Jamie Greene, asked Mr Swinney if he could confirm that next year’s exams will take place after the 2020 exam diet was axed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Mr Greene asked Mr Swinney if he could confirm the Scottish Government had “no plans to cancel next year’s exam diet”. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Schools not set to fully re-open “in the foreseeable future”

The Education Secretary said: “The exam diet for 2021 is being planned just now. We obviously are uncertain about what the path of Covid will be in the course of the next 12 months. 

“The Scottish Qualifications Authority will give advice to schools about the importance of capturing evidence of the performance and the achievements of young people  - to ensure that can be properly borne in mind in any certification process for 2020/21.” 

The Scottish Greens have called for next year’s exams to be cancelled now, giving teachers time to plan for assessments when they return to schools next month – ahead of welcoming pupils in August. 

Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “The Scottish Government is planning for exams to take place in 2021, but has confirmed that they may be cancelled at any point between now and next May. This leaves pupils and teachers in limbo for months during an already incredibly difficult time.  

“Given that most pupils will be expected to learn from home for much of the coming term, which Mr Swinney has acknowledged is to their detriment, the government should scrap the 2021 exams now and replace them with a system of continuous assessment throughout the year, which teachers can plan for before schools return in August.” 

Mr Swinney said there was no guarantee that next year’s exams will go ahead as normal. 

He said: “There’s a general view within Scottish education of the importance of us having reliable and certificated qualifications for all as part of the way we deliver our education – the exam diet represents a significant part of that process. 

“While the exam diet is planned for in 2021, we cannot be certain that it will be able to take its course.  

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Scotland's schools to re-open on August 11 with 'blended' learning model

“The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will continue to develop plans to deliver the 2021 exam diet and will provide further advice to ensure arrangements are in place to capture, on an on-going basis , the learning outcomes met by young people in the senior phase in schools year 2020/21.” 

The Education Secretary added: “We want to maximise the time children can spend with their teachers and their peers, so we are calling on local authorities to expand the size of the learning estate where possible. This could include community facilities or vacant office accommodation. 

“We are also working with the General Teaching Council for Scotland for plans to call on registered teachers, who are not currently teaching, or recently retired, to consider returning to work to support children through the blended model of learning.”