Senior pupils have been sitting crucial tests without knowing the grades they need to get into university, it has emerged.

The development threatens to plunge the education plans of some youngsters into uncertainty and is a further sign of problems within the alternative certification process set up to replace formal exams.

University figures said the issue had arisen because January’s “equal consideration” deadline - the point by which the vast majority of applications are submitted - was moved back two weeks amid increased demand on teachers and advisers following pandemic-related school closures.

But the change has also resulted in some conditional offers being issued later, with the date for this shifting to May 20.

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Parents have taken to social media to say their children sat assessments even though the grades needed to secure course places had not been communicated.  Some said offers had come in with only days to go before a test.

It is understood the issue affects a minority of young people but is likely to add to their anxiety as concern mounts over the impact and fairness of this year’s arrangements.

One parent tweeted on Monday: “My daughter [is] still waiting on an offer from a Scottish university [and] meanwhile having to constantly hedge bets. It is too much.

“I’ve spoken to the relevant admissions teams about whether they know about the levels of stress induced... Young people just want to know.”

HeraldScotland: This year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled.This year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled.

It comes after this year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were axed, with results instead based on teacher judgement supported by evidence of attainment.

In a separate development, The Herald has learned arrangements at some schools may mean teachers are able to divulge provisional grades earlier, only for pupils to face lengthy waits before full confirmation of course places.

This is because the university has to verify marks with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), which is usually about a week before results day.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: “Universities are committed to fair admissions processes.

“This was the case before the pandemic and is even more important now with prospective students facing a challenging year.

“The changes to both the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) deadline dates for applicants and the SQA examination process have been necessary to mitigate the impact of lockdown but have also created some unique circumstances. We are working with a range of partner organisations to ensure any disruption is minimalised.”

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Mary Senior, the UCU’s Scotland official, said: “It’s vital that this unfortunate disconnect between the confirmation of university place requirements and pupil assessments does not disadvantage any young person.

“The Scottish Government and the SQA need to avoid the chaos we saw last year, and ensure that all young people are supported on to their next learning destination.”

A spokeswoman for UCAS said it had continued to “flex” deadlines in response to the pandemic.

“The majority of students that applied by the January deadline will have received the decisions from the university or college they have applied to, and for those that have yet to hear, we expect that all decisions will be made by 20 May,” she said.

“We look forward to final awards being made to students in Scotland by SQA on 10th August.”

HeraldScotland: Mary Senior, the UCU's Scotland official, is concerned.Mary Senior, the UCU's Scotland official, is concerned.

An SQA spokesman said: “SQA and UCAS enjoy a close and collaborative working relationship, and are focused on providing for Scotland’s learners.

"Both organisations continue to be in close contact and regularly share information to deliver a successful awarding and submissions process.”

A Government spokesman said: “There should be ongoing dialogue between the learner and their teacher/lecturer about their anticipated grade ahead of their provisional grade being submitted to SQA by 25 June.

“We asked the SQA to review their appeals system from 2021 to ensure it best meets the needs of young people. They carried out a public consultation, and a response to that is expected to be set out soon."