John Swinney has announced the cancellation of Scotland's National 5 exams for 2021, but has confirmed plans for Higher and Advanced Higher exams to go ahead if possible.

In an address to parliament today, Mr Swinney laid out the reasons behind the decision to cancel National 5s as well as explaining how pupils would instead be assessed.

He also outlined "contingency plans" for Highers and Advanced Highers in case they are not able to go ahead due to Covid-19. 

Mr Swinney has said exam diets cannot go ahead as "business as usual" and that the aim would be to recognise the hard work of individual pupils "fairly and consistently" - but how will pupils be assessed?

National 5s

Due to the level of disruption already caused, as well as the likely disruption still to come,   Mr Swinney said going ahead with these exams would be “too big a risk to take”.

Therefore, an alternative approach will be taken to National 5 accreditation in 2021, rather than the usual exams.

How will pupils be assessed for National 5s?

Qualifications will be awarded on the basis of centre-estimation based upon validated assessments.

This means grades will be based on teacher judgement and be supported by assessment resources.

The SQA will also look at a sample of work within each school and college in Scotland, and will feed back to teachers and lecturers to ensure standards are maintained.

What will pupils be asked to do?

Pupils where possible will be asked to specify between two and four pieces of work per subject, that will form the basis of arriving at a final award.

Mr Swinney said there will be a "clear focus" on quality rather than quantity of evidence. 

What won't happen?

Awards will not be given or be taken away on the basis of a statistical model, nor on the basis of a school’s past performance.

Highers and Advanced Highers

Mr Swinney said that the cancellation of National 5s meant that Highers and Advanced Higher exams could go ahead as safely as is possible. 

Plans are for the exams to go ahead as "long as the public health guidance allows it".

When will these exams begin?

These exams are set to begin on the 13th of May this year, which is later than normal in order to "give back" approximately two weeks of missed learning time from this year. 

When is certification day?

Certification day will remain as the 10th of August.

What if the exams cannot go ahead?

A "clear contingency plan" will continue to be developed for those exams in case circumstances mean the exams cannot go ahead.

Mr Swinney said that in case the exams cannot go ahead, Higher and Advanced Higher courses will be awarded based on

  • teacher professional judgement
  • supported by SQA quality assurance
  • and will take account of classroom assessment evidence.

This could include prelims where appropriate.