John Swinney is under pressure to ensure the process for determining next year’s Higher and Advanced Higher grades is workable and manageable after announcing that exams will be cancelled due to coronavirus.

The Education Secretary told MSPs the tests would be scrapped and replaced with awards based on teacher judgement of pupil attainment.

The assessment model will follow the approach already agreed for National 5 awards, details of which were also set out on Tuesday.

Explaining his decision, Mr Swinney said: “In October, I said Highers and Advanced Highers would go ahead if it was safe and fair to do so.

“Since then, many pupils have suffered disruption because of Covid, as they were obliged to selfisolate or even saw their school closed.

“The level of disruption has, however, not been the same across the board – pupils in deprived areas have been hit hardest.

“While we hope that public health will improve in the coming months with the roll-out of the vaccine, we cannot guarantee that there will be no further disruption to pupils’ learning.

“Holding exams would run the risk of translating the unequal impact of Covid into unfair results for our poorest pupils, leading to their futures being blighted through no fault of their own. That is simply not fair.

“There will be no Higher or Advanced Higher exams in 2021. Instead we will adopt a new model that is based on the one developed for National 5 qualifications and make awards on teacher judgement of evidence of learner attainment.

“This approach is more flexible and takes account of the reality of the disruption so many pupils have already had to their learning.”

Following the exam results fiasco earlier this year - when thousands saw their teacherestimated marks downgraded through the SQA’s moderation process - Mr Swinney also stressed that no algorithm would be used to determine grades in 2021.

His announcement comes after he said in October that National 5 exams would be scrapped and brings Scotland into line with Wales, where tests have also been axed.

In England, A-levels and GCSEs are due to go ahead next summer, although they will start three weeks later than usual.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, welcomed yesterday’s statement but said agreement would have to be reached on appropriate recognition of the additional workload required in any alternative assessment programme.

General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The EIS has every confidence in the ability of teachers to make professional judgements based on pupil evidence and in the circumstances believes that cancelling the exam diet in favour of an alternative model is the correct decision, one which could have been made earlier.

“We have raised repeatedly, however, the additional workload burden which this will generate and made clear that teachers should not be treated as unpaid SQA markers. “The Deputy First Minister’s commitment, therefore, to make additional payments to teachers is welcome but the devil will be in the detail.”

Mr Flanagan added: “Given the significant impact of the pandemic on many young people, particularly those from less advantaged backgrounds, today’s announcement is a commonsense decision that is in the best interests of students.”

NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “A move to teacher assessment could provide some assistance to pupils who have been affected in unequal ways, depending on whether they are selfisolating or are indeed in schools that have had to close because of Covid-19 outbreaks among staff and pupils.

“However, it will be critical for the SQA to work with teachers and school leaders to develop workable and manageable proposals in this respect.

“There are significant concerns around the increased workload the move towards teacher assessment will create, a burden felt by teachers who are working flat out at the frontline of this pandemic.”

Posting on Twitter, Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Exams needed cancelled.

“There was no other option. That isn’t an excuse for having teachers run and then mark de-facto exams in class.

“Scottish education would collapse without the unpaid overtime teachers were already doing, pre-pandemic.

“Adding to that is not sustainable.”

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson, asked whether Mr Swinney could provide assurance that the alternative assessment model for Highers and Advanced Highers will “not be simply a version of the exam administered and marked in the classroom”.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Education Secretary Jamie Greene was strongly critical of Mr Swinney.

He said: “At every turn during this pandemic, he has failed to step up and show the leadership required.

“First it was the exams fiasco, then it was throwing the towel in over National 5 exams, and now he has dithered and delayed over Higher and Advanced Higher exams.”

But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Cancelling exams is the right thing to do and was inevitable.”