Glasgow's schools convener is urging the new Education Secretary to direct an overhaul of Scotland’s “unfair” and “inflexible” alternative assessment process as fears grow for pupils forced to self-isolate amid a fresh spike in Covid infections.

Councillor Chris Cunningham has warned Shirley-Anne Somerville that the pandemic is bringing yet more disruption to young people already dealing with the stress of high-stakes tests.

Mr Cunningham, who is Education, Skills and Early Years Convener, and SNP Councillor for Garscadden/Scotstounhill, said: “The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) guidance to teachers might have appeared ok when it was prepared but it’s looking inflexible now given the current context, particularly in Glasgow where there has been a new rise in infections linked to the Indian variant and pupils having to self-isolate.”

The intervention is likely to intensify concern over the Alternative Certification Model set up to replace National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams after they were cancelled.

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Grades will instead be determined by teacher judgement supported with evidence of attainment.

But the SQA’s stipulation that conclusions should be based on a candidate’s “demonstrated” achievement has led to critics questioning whether such judgement is possible in any meaningful sense.

It has also resulted in many pupils enduring a treadmill of exam-style tests.

Mr Cunningham said the system should be changed to include a greater role for inferred attainment.

This would allow staff to make decisions based on their wider knowledge of young people and what they think would have been achieved in an assessment if, for example, it has not been possible to hold one.

HeraldScotland: Councillor Chris Cunningham, Glasgow's Education Convener, is concerned about the 2021 alternative assessment process.Councillor Chris Cunningham, Glasgow's Education Convener, is concerned about the 2021 alternative assessment process.

However, such an approach is banned under official guidance for this year’s qualifications.

Mr Cunningham has now written to Ms Somerville, calling on her to “task the SQA with finding greater flexibility in the awarding of grades”.

His letter stresses that “notable numbers” of senior phase pupils are being required to self-isolate.

“It’s absolutely the wrong time for pupils having to sit tests,” he told The Herald.

“What many pupils have learned will have been learned at home... That’s not a level playing field. The classroom is the level playing field.”

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He added: “Given the number of pupils having to self-isolate, persisting with an alternative assessment arrangement that’s largely limited to demonstrated attainment would, I think, be unfair. I would like to see some sort of role within the alternative certification process for inferred attainment so that there is greater flexibility.

“I’ve had discussions with senior education staff within Glasgow City Council who are of the view that we need to be more flexible and have a better balance between inferred and demonstrated attainment when deciding provisional results... So what I’m asking the new Education Secretary to do is take a long hard look, or a quick hard look, at this and come to a judgement about whether she thinks the current framework is really fit for purpose.

“I’m asking her to ask questions now that might not otherwise have been asked so that every young person receives the results they deserve.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “Grades will be determined by teachers or lecturers, based on evidence of young people’s attainment.

“To address the disruption to learning during lockdown periods, coursework has been reduced for most subjects and schools have been given flexibility around the timing and nature of assessments to ensure that, as far as possible, there is maximum opportunity for learners to undertake the required learning and to have the best chance to succeed.

“A later certification contingency is available for learners who have experienced severe disruption and have not been unable to complete their assessment evidence within the flexibilities already provided.”

HeraldScotland: Shirley-Anne Somerville is Scotland's new Education Secretary.Shirley-Anne Somerville is Scotland's new Education Secretary.

A spokesman said the SQA had “been in touch with Glasgow City Council, to hear about the steps being taken to support learners at this time and to offer support if required”.

He added: “This year’s approach to certification has been developed by partners across the education system, to recognise the disruption learners have faced and provide flexible assessment arrangements.

"This includes a contingency for those unduly disadvantaged by by severe disruption to submit provisional results by 3 September.”