EXAMS might have to be made shorter to be fair to poorer pupils facing the “double disadvantage” of lost learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have warned.

It comes as a report from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and Nuffield Foundation reveals a clear gap in attendance between the most and least deprived areas.

The figures stood at just under 89 per cent and a little over 95% on October 20 – the last date in the data series – although the difference has been greater at points in the period since mid-August.

Lower attendance has also been recorded across secondary school year groups. And, while Scotland performs well in comparison with other parts of the UK, with attendance above 90% from the early part of September, statistics for the week ending October 9 indicate lower rates in certain local authority areas, including the Outer Hebrides, Glasgow and Fife.

Luke Sibieta, EPI research fellow, said the reasons for lower attendance in deprived areas were not clear. But he added: “For pupils in deprived areas who are preparing for exams and assessments next year, you basically have the risk of a double disadvantage following lockdown and as we head into this term with attendance gaps opening up.

“And that’s due to things like access to equipment – broadband, laptops, for example – and the fact that some parents in these areas found it, and will find it, more challenging to provide the school learning that children missed out on during lockdown or will miss out on if they have to stay off school.

“My bigger fear is that pupils in deprived areas could be left without appropriate arrangements for examinations. The key factors will be providing appropriate catch-up lessons for disadvantaged pupils and making sure you have exams and assessments that are fair... A fair exam would be something that is limited to the amount of material pupils would realistically have been able to cover during the period. So you’re perhaps looking at shorter exams and making use of coursework or teacher assessments.

“Everything has to be on the table to make sure you get as much information as possible and that the process is as fair as possible. And that’s why it’s crucial you have precise, up-to-date data on how much schooling pupils in different areas are missing. So far, the Scottish Government has been doing a good job in providing that data.”

A Government spokeswoman said: "Good attendance at school is vital for young people to receive the learning they need to reach their full potential.

“This has been a difficult time for families and pupils and after an initial dip when schools reopened, overall attendance rates are now similar to average levels in previous years.

“Schools have contingency plans to continue to provide learning experiences for young people when they can’t attend school.

“We are grateful to all the teachers, school staff and many others who have worked hard to return some normality to the lives of young people and keep them safe while they resume their classes.”