John Swinney has been told the growing alternative assessment controversy is “fast becoming the first scandal of the new parliament”.

Friday’s heated exchanges in the Holyrood debating chamber saw Scottish Conservative Jamie Greene warn the Education Secretary that “pupils are at breaking point, teachers are their wits’ end and parents are furious”.

He revealed one parent had informed him their child endured 43 “exam-like” assessments in five weeks.

It comes after this year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams were axed due to fears over the impact of Covid-19 and remote learning.

Grades will instead be based on teacher judgement supported by evidence of attainment, with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) providing question papers that staff can use for this purpose.

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But anger is growing amid concerns the arrangement is focused excessively on high-pressure tests, even though pupils have been hit by extended school closures.

Mr Swinney strongly rejected Mr Greene’s criticisms, insisting that the alternative certification model (ACM) was not “cooked up” by the SQA.

“This is a model that has been... designed by the whole education system to ensure that we properly record the achievements of young people,” he told MSPs.

He stressed that teacher decisions - taking into account factors such as regularity of access to education during the pandemic - would be the “determinant” of pupil grades.

And he said provisional results submitted by staff would not be overturned by the SQA unless administrative errors are found. 

“The system is working together to deliver the best approach possible under the circumstances [and] to ensure that the hard work of learners is recognised fairly,” he added.

HeraldScotland: Jamie Greene told the Education Secretary that pupils were at "breaking point".Jamie Greene told the Education Secretary that pupils were at "breaking point".

Mr Swinney acknowledged it was an “anxious” time for young people and said everything possible would be done to give them the support they require.

He also told MSPs he expects details of this year’s appeals scheme to be published shortly.

The alternative certification model was designed by the National Qualifications 2021 Group, whose members include the EIS teaching union, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the National Parent Forum of Scotland.

On Friday, it published a message on the SQA website that says: “We want to reassure students that everyone in Scottish education is working hard on their behalf to ensure that the ACM allows learners to achieve fair and credible grades, with every step possible being taken to ensure young people’s wellbeing is protected through the process.   

“At the heart of the model is demonstrated attainment, that is evidence of learning and skills.  

“Based on that evidence, teachers and lecturers will exercise their professional judgement to determine provisional grades for learners. Those grades will not then be altered by the SQA unless an administrative error is discovered.”

COMMENT: Scotland's school league tables are a pointless insult to teachers and pupils

However, many critics feel the arrangement should include inferred attainment, which involves teachers making judgements based on their wider knowledge of pupils and what they think would have been achieved in an exam or test if it has not been possible to hold one.

The NQ21 update adds: “Our key message to learners is that your grades will be judged by your teachers and lecturers, based on your assessment evidence and every effort is being made to ensure equity and support your wellbeing throughout the process.”

Meanwhile, TES has reported that pupils had been sharing information about test papers on the social media site Discord.

It comes after the same publication revealed similar activity had been taking place via the TikTok platform.