Teachers face a scramble to gather and submit course grades under internal deadlines that could fall as soon as next month, a union has warned.

It is feared the situation will lead to a mental health crisis as youngsters endure the stress of providing evidence for alternative assessment in a matter of days following the planned full-time return to high schools after Easter.

Although the SQA’s official submission date for provisional results has been moved to June 25 due to the recent period of remote learning, some staff have been told that external cross-marking and verification processes mean in-school deadlines will have to be much earlier.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) said it was aware of members in certain areas being given a date of April 28, with Easter holidays in many local authorities not due to end until April 19.

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It would mean teachers and pupils rushing to complete assignments or sit test papers under the alternative certification model that was developed following the cancellation of exams.

There are also fears that a decision to relax the two-metre social distancing rule for high school pupils will increase the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks, further disrupting the ability of students to gather evidence.

SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson has called for a light-touch verification process that would rely much more on teacher judgement and dispense with complicated external procedures at the local authority and SQA level.

He said his union’s members would be advised to work no more than their contracted hours.

“We’ve highlighted the point that what the SQA has done is sold everybody a pup in terms of what’s going to happen after Easter,” he added.

HeraldScotland: SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson.SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson.

“What we’ve got is a whole series of verification processes which will cripple the system.

“You have cross marking within a high school faculty, cross-marking by staff at other schools, then the local authority has its exercises and checks standards, and, on top of that, the SQA will be carrying out its own checks.

“The authorities have all been given two additional in-service days to carry out their moderation exercises.

“Our question is, what are these days to be used for? Are we sending off grades or is it a stepping stone process?

“It’s putting a lot of pressure on teachers to prepare and mark after they go back following the Easter break.

“You’re suddenly thrown in at the deep end where teachers are running around like ants trying to get everything together and youngsters are basically facing a number of exam-type tests within a very short time - in only a couple of weeks.

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“They’re going to be knocked around from pillar to post by teachers looking for evidence [for grades], and their mental health is going to go out the window. They’re not going to cope.”

Mr Searson said the length of time over which schools gather evidence would vary from council to council, but warned timescales looked extremely tight.

“A few members in different places were saying that they need to have all their marking done by the 28th of April, so the schools and local authorities can get all of their administration activities in place,” he said.

“In some authorities there could be a drive to get everything done in two weeks, in some it could be six weeks or longer.

“The pressure is unfair on everybody - pupils and teachers.

“The SQA are just sitting back and watching. They’ve set out things which are not achievable, even with the best will in the world.”

Mr Searson called for a simpler system in which the SQA sets out clear criteria and requirements for each grade, samples a few pieces of work from schools to ensure national standards are met and then trusts in the professional judgement of teachers when they submit results.

“We need to be saying to the SQA, tell us what a grade A piece looks like and we’ll tell you if our pupils are capable of reaching that,” he said.

“We need a sensible verification process rather than the micromanagement we have at the moment.”

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Mr Searson also expressed concern over the removal of two-metre social distancing for secondary pupils after they return to full-time schooling next month.

“We know full well that our members are very worried about going back,” he added.

“They’re going back to normal class sizes... teachers are just bemused by it all.

“If there are outbreaks and absences from school because of the lack of a physical distancing requirement, the youngsters will then lose more time in terms of getting their evidence together.”

However, Mr Searson welcomed confirmation within freshly updated Scottish Government guidance that schools will be able to consider exclusion “as a last resort” when dealing with pupils who do not obey Covid-19 safety measures such as wearing face coverings.

HeraldScotland: This year's exams have been cancelled due to the impact of Covid-19.This year's exams have been cancelled due to the impact of Covid-19.

“We’re definitely pleased to see it in there,” he added. “It’s something we’ve been calling for for a while.”

The SQA stressed it was not responsible for setting internal school or local authority deadlines.

A spokesman said: “The alternative certification model has been developed by the National Qualifications Group, which includes wide representation from the education system, including teachers and young people.

“We have provided teachers and lecturers with detailed assessment guidance for every subject, which highlights the flexible approaches in which assessment can be carried out.

“To maximise learning and teaching time, we have extended the deadlines for submitting evidence and also advised that assessment should take place later in the academic year.”

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He added: “Quality assurance ensures consistency and fairness within schools and is at the heart of a credible certification model this year.

“Throughout the creation of this year’s model, the views and impact on young people have been at the heart of our decision making.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.