Schools have been warned to "tread carefully" during the alternative assessment process as fears grow that many pupils will face intensive, exam-style tests after Easter.

Parent representatives said families had been led to believe final results would be based on "efforts during the course of the year".

But there are concerns a significant number of young people will be assessed in high stress conditions with reduced preparation time.

One teacher has branded the approach "cruel", although senior staff representatives insisted it had been designed so schools could make arrangements according to their circumstances.

It comes after National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were cancelled due to the impact of Covid-19.

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Grades will instead be based on teacher judgement supported by evidence, with the deadline for submission of provisional results falling on June 25.

A spokeswoman for parents’ organisation Connect said: “We are very concerned about suggestions that our young people are going to face lots of tests, prelims and exam-type arrangements.

“We were all led to believe that assessments under the alternative certification process would be based on evidence that is gathered work. It was not clear at any point that this would be an exam-like assessment operation. ​

“Many parents and young people have been led to believe that efforts during the course of the year would be what was taken into account.

“The fact that there are different systems of assessment everywhere is concerning too… Schools need to tread so carefully and cautiously with this.”

HeraldScotland: This year's exams have been cancelled.This year's exams have been cancelled.

The spokeswoman said wellbeing and safety would be of “paramount” importance.

“Schools really need to check in with young people,” she added.

“We are very much in a world of children’s rights in Scotland and the exam-based qualifications system is very much being scrutinised. And, whilst these are difficult times for schools as they gather evidence, are tests, mocks and prelims really the best way to go?

“Many may have thought there would be a portfolio-based approach. Pupils have not had experience of exam-like conditions – is it right that this happens now? We are not in normal times and defaulting to normal processes does not seem the right way to go ​for all young people.”  

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But Jim Thewliss, General Secretary at School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary headteachers and other senior staff, said the process was aimed at enabling flexibility.

“Our view is that the evidence on which to base a grade must be robust and demonstrated evidence and it must be evidence which is consistent with the standards that the SQA has set out,” he added.

“In gathering evidence, the guidance to teachers has been to do this in the way which best suits the circumstances which the school and the young people find themselves in.

HeraldScotland: There are also fears for the wellbeing of teaching staff.There are also fears for the wellbeing of teaching staff.

“One school might decide that the best way to do this is over a period of time and give pupils chunks of assessment over that extended period. Another school might say, ‘we are confident in the way young people have been learning during lockdown and we are confident that the best way of gathering the evidence that we need to decide on grades is through an exam-type situation’.

“There is a variety of approaches across the country. It may be that there are schools which had evidence banked before the second lockdown period at the turn of the year and those schools might decide to gather the remainder of the evidence throughout April and May.

"It’s all in the interests of gathering the best evidence in the most effective way – consistent with the standards.”

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Mr Thewliss stressed that the alternative assessment model had been “co-produced” by the National Qualifications 21 Group, whose members include the EIS teaching union and the National Parent Forum of Scotland.

“Where we are with this is that we are trying to find the best solution to an insoluble problem,” he said.

“We have a system that is in large part predicated on the expectation that there will be an exam to assess pupil learning at the end of the school year. That has been removed.

“What we have put in place is, we believe, the best possible system for ensuring young people can gain qualifications which are an accurate and accredited reflection of their ability.”

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An SQA spokesman said: “The [National Qualifications] Group has been clear that there is no requirement to replicate a full formal exam or prelim diet this year.

“SQA has provided a flexible and consistent framework for schools and colleges this year, including detailed guidance, material and support, based on assessment standards that teachers and lecturers are familiar with. We have also reduced the amount of evidence required, given the disruption to learning. The quality of evidence is important, rather than quantity, to ensure confidence in our qualifications system.    

“Schools and colleges know their learners best, so it is appropriate that they deliver assessments which suit their circumstances, in discussion with parents, carers and learners. Local and national quality assurance of the evidence will help deliver fairness to learners.”