THE PROFESSOR who was tasked with reviewing this year’s exam replacement fiasco has warned that next year’s assessments could add strain to teacher workloads and “be bureaucratic”.

Professor Mark Priestly, who the Scottish Government asked to review the 2020 exam replacement that forced the Scottish Government into a u-turn over the SQA’s contentious moderation, has also called for “a move away from a reliance on pencil and paper testing”.

The SQA moderation resulted in thousands of teacher estimated marks being downgraded – with schools in deprived areas hit hardest. The Scottish Government moved to axe the moderation for those who were downgraded, meaning the teacher estimated grades stand for those who had marks lowered.

Following Professor Priestley's review, Education Secretary John Swinney, announced that all National 5 exams next year will be replaced with teacher estimated grades in 2021 but Highers and Advanced Highers are due to go ahead with exams as things stand.

Professor Priestly appeared before Holyrood’s Education Committee, warning MSPs that many educationalists he spoke to in drawing up his report felt that the SQA lacked transparency and did not trust others with technical details.

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He added: “It maybe stems from a cultural expectation within the organisation that the expertise resides with them and it doesn’t reside elsewhere – and that may work perfectly well in normal years.

“But in the year of a pandemic, extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary measures, then perhaps there was a need for a more open, collaborative working approach.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats, which has previously called for the SQA to be reformed – believes the situation could have been avoided.

The party’s education spokesperson, Beatrice Wishart said: “It’s clear from evidence gathered by Professor Priestly and his team that teachers have little confidence in the SQA after the exams shambles. The chaos could have been avoided had the SQA engaged properly with the teaching profession.

“The organisation is too far detached from the impacts of its decisions. To rebuild trust and make sure the same mistakes are not made in the future, we need root and branch reform of the SQA so that it is run by people with direct teaching experience.”

Professor Priestly said he was hopeful that lessons will be learned ahead of the 2021 assessment.

He said: “The optimist in me says I would hope the lessons have been learned. My fear is that the solutions put in place this year will be bureaucratic, will involve vast amounts of teacher workload, will be based around quite narrow assessment approaches.

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“I would hope one of the things we will see this year is a move away from a reliance on pencil and paper testing – including the exams and to more eclectic range of assessment methodologies.”

Appearing after Professor Priestly in front of MSPs, Mr Swinney stressed that the 2021 replacement method for the 2021 National 5 exams will be “fair to all pupils”.

A decision will be made by mid-February on whether the Higher and Advanced Higher exam diet will take place.

Mr Swinney reassured the committee that a repeat of this summer’s row will not happen.

He said: “Results will not be given or taken away on the basis of a statistical model or on the basis of a school’s past performance.”

The Education Secretary said a working group including local councils, education unions and the SQA is looking at how National 5 courses will be assessed and “contingency measures” should the Higher and Advanced Higher exam diets not go ahead.

He added: “It’s important that the awarding process is fair to all pupils and that no pupil is disadvantaged by circumstances outwith their control.”