PARENTS are demanding that a decision on whether to cancel next year’s Higher exams be made before Christmas, amid fears pupils have little chance of achieving deserved grades if they go ahead.

A survey by the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) has also revealed a majority of those who hold a clear view feel the 2021 tests should be scrapped, with nearly three-quarters warning their child’s learning has been significantly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Next year’s National 5 exams have already been axed and will be replaced with teacher-estimated grades after Education Secretary John Swinney said holding a full diet would be “simply too big a risk”.

Higher and Advanced Higher assessments will go ahead if possible, although “contingency plans” are being drawn up to enable teacher estimates to be used if the Government opts for cancellation.

Mr Swinney has also said a decision on holding tests in 2021 will be made by the February break at the latest and may come sooner “if the evidence is pointing to that”.

But the NPFS findings – based on analysis of answers from 4,196 respondents – suggest an overwhelming majority of parents and carers want clarity in the next four weeks, with three-quarters telling the body that any decision to cancel should come now (34.46 per cent) or before Christmas (40.68%).

Just over 74% felt their child’s learning had been significantly disrupted as a result of the pandemic, while only around one in five (21.66%) answered “a great deal” or “a lot” when asked if their child had received sufficient support for learning during periods of lockdown or self-isolation.

And nearly 57% of those who took part fear their child does not have a fair chance of achieving the Higher and – or – Advanced Higher grades they deserve if they sit exams as normal next year.

A little over one-quarter of respondents (26.57%) believe that the diet should go ahead in May 2021, with just over half of those polled (50.60%) wanting it cancelled.

Nearly 23% (22.83%) were undecided.

Speaking on behalf of the NPFS, co-vice chair Barrie Sheppard said: “We know from our correspondence with parents and carers across the country that our young people are encountering difficult circumstances in their day-to-day learning, with self-isolation of both pupils and staff taking a massive toll on their health and wellbeing at this critical time in their lives.

“It is evidently clear that parents and carers across the country believe the current Higher and Advanced Higher exam diet for 2021 simply cannot deliver a fair and equal opportunity for all students and that the professional judgement of teaching staff will again be required to support an alternative model of assessment.”

The survey findings come in the wake of the exam results fiasco earlier this year after a decision by Mr Swinney to cancel the 2020 diet amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thousands of pupils saw their teacher-estimated marks downgraded through the SQA’s moderation process, which took into account the past performance of schools and resulted in those from less affluent backgrounds being hardest hit. A change of heart led to the reinstatement of original grades.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, said switching to an alternative assessment model for Highers and Advanced Highers would be “prudent, given the ongoing levels of disruption which some pupils are suffering and the ongoing threat to next year’s diet”.

He added: “An early decision is required, however, so that teachers and students can plan accordingly.”

The call for a speedy decision on the exams has been backed by opposition figures at Holyrood.

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “With many pupil’s learning being disrupted by the pandemic, talk of extended Christmas holidays and the SQA’s continued failure to provide curriculum advice in good time, it is no wonder many parents are concerned about their children having a fair chance in forthcoming exams.

“The Education Secretary needs to address these concerns urgently and decide now if the 2021 diet really is viable.”

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said: “I am constantly contacted by young people who have had to repeatedly self-isolate, falling weeks behind their peers and now extremely anxious that they will still be expected to take the same exam on the same terms as those fortunate enough to avoid self-isolating. It’s no surprise that parents are equally concerned.

“Cancelling exams and moving to a system based on assessment of the work a young person has been able to complete throughout the year is the only viable option, so the Scottish Government’s continued refusal to take this decision is frankly unjustifiable.

“John Swinney must reassure parents, pupils and teachers by cancelling the Highers and Advanced Highers now, giving them some certainty before schools break up for Christmas.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Beatrice Wishart said February was “far too late for a final decision”.

Jamie Greene, the Scottish Tories education spokesman, said: “Parents are right to be worried about the ability of young people to sit exams next year, but the answer surely lies in equipping them with everything they need to pass those exams, which is why we are calling for an immediate roll-out of a national tutoring scheme.

“[The SNP] must pull out all stops to give pupils the best chance of succeeding through fair and meaningful exams next year.”

A spokeswoman said it remained the Scottish Government’s ambition for Higher and Advanced Higher exams to proceed if possible, adding: “It must, however, be safe to do so and it must be fair to learners. We are monitoring the position closely and listening to all the different views on this matter, so we welcome this survey.

“The Deputy First Minister has been clear that the latest point at which a decision will be taken is the February break – which is more than three months before the exams are due to begin. He has also been clear that he will make a decision sooner if the evidence is pointing to that.

“Contingency plans are being drawn up to ensure fair and consistent awarding for Higher and Advanced Higher courses should exams not be possible.”