Schools should not be subjecting pupils to prelim-style exam “diets” as they gather evidence under the alternative certification process, Scotland’s largest teaching union has said.

The EIS warned against making students sit entire SQA papers in one session and stressed that timetabling them back to back over a period of hours or days would not be appropriate.

But it acknowledged formal testing under controlled conditions would be necessary so learning can be accredited “as equitably and robustly as possible”.

There is widespread confusion and anxiety over this year’s assessment arrangements, which were developed after the cancellation of National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams due to Covid-19.

READ MORE: Schools warned as fears grow over post-Easter 'exams'

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

Earlier this week, Nicola Sturgeon sparked anger when she said there was “no requirement” to replicate a “full exam or prelim”. She added: “Teacher judgement is at the centre of this.”

In a blog post, the SQA said the “look and feel” of some assessments “may seem like an exam” but added that schools or colleges would make sure only those parts of a course that have been taught are tested.

It comes after the time available for evidence gathering was squeezed by the relatively late decision to cancel Higher and Advanced Higher exams, a second period of Covid-related campus closures and practical barriers to remote assessment.

Pupils face a stressful time as evidence is gathered for grades under the alternative certification model.Exams have been cancelled due to the impact of Covid-19.

There have also been warnings that external cross-marking, quality assurance and verification processes will worsen the scramble.

Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, said: “This term will be a challenge for parents, pupils and teachers as we strive to ensure that we accredit student learning as equitably and robustly as possible in the most difficult of school years.

“The alternative certification model is intended to do that. It is predicated on demonstrated performance evidence across the range of skills and knowledge appropriate to each subject and level.

“In most subjects it will require three or four pieces of qualitative evidence - for example, in English this could include a close reading passage, a critical essay and/or textual analysis, and an essay. There is no need for these pieces to be produced in one sitting or as part of a prelim.

“Controlled conditions apply so that the teacher is confident that it is the pupil’s own work - for example, a double period may be used to complete a close reading passage in class. Critically, any assessment does not have to be a one off opportunity but, given the impact of lockdown, there are logistical challenges around completing teaching and learning and then facilitating evidence production and quality assurance.”

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Mr Flanagan, whose union is a member of the National Qualifications (NQ) Group that created this year’s alternative certification model, said it was in the interests of students to know when evidence might count towards estimates but stressed this should not lead to an exam “diet” approach.

“Utilising unused SQA papers is common sense as they are designed to assess the stated courses,” he added.

“In a normal year, students practise on past papers so it is not an unusual approach. The EIS would not expect whole papers to be tackled in one session, however, as that would be akin to a high stakes test which is not appropriate, especially in this Covid-impacted year.”

Pupils face a stressful time as evidence is gathered for grades under the alternative certification model.Education Secretary John Swinney.

A spokeswoman for parents’ organisation Connect said: “At the very time when the exam system is being questioned and reviewed, when there are calls for change and improvement to SQA qualifications, there seems to be a ‘default’ back to tests against the clock.

“We appreciate teachers are under pressure, but young people’s mental health and wellbeing must be front and centre of what local authorities and schools are planning.”

An SQA spokesman said the NQ Group had been clear there was no requirement to replicate a full exam or prelim diet.

“We fully appreciate that this is an anxious time for young people across Scotland, after a challenging year," he added.

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“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.”