REBECCA McQuillan’s article is a timely reminder that enforced learning at home is no substitute for being at school. True, there has always been a small number of parents who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen to home school, but for most young people, having access to highly trained and committed Scottish teachers makes a huge difference to their likelihood of success.

As Ms McQuillan reminds us, there is a gap to be closed, and having children learning at home makes it all the more difficult to achieve. Schools don't cause inequality; society does that. Poverty, disadvantage, inequality all combine to ensure that many children enter the school system already behind in the basics of learning. That's why the Scottish Government is right to increase the number of hours that under-fives have, free, in nurseries.

But there is another unintended consequence of Covid-19 which needs to be acknowledged. Exams have been cancelled. When the Education Secretary announced this in the Scottish Parliament, he did so in a sombre tone. Never in its entire history had the national examination system been cancelled. Shock. Horror. How would we cope? Well, it seems we are coping very well. In the rest of the UK, teachers are getting ready to assess the school work of students preparing for exams and universities are reassuring us that things will be fine. Students will get the benefit of the doubt. In Scotland some of the students' course work is not even going to be assessed ... and the system of allocating university places will go on. So, if we are reassuring young people that they will get the grades they deserve and if the Scottish Exam Board and the universities are convinced that teachers' assessments of students are reliable and fair, should we be asking why we need the current exam system at all?

I have long held the view that the kind of exams which student take are a barrier to real learning. Cramming, learning by rote, regurgitating notes, doing countless numbers of "past papers" are very little to do with deep learning or learning for understanding. And there is the phenomenon of "downward incrementalism" where the exams influence the kind of learning that takes place lower down the school process. Do we really need them? Do they accurately sort pupils out?

The biggest challenge facing Scottish education is to take on board some of the challenges of other countries. Why do we sort pupils out in secondary schools into sets ostensibly on the basis of "prior attainment"? We used to select pupils by IQ, by the "qualy". Up until the early 1970s, some 65 per cent of Scottish pupils were deemed unfit for the academic rigours of senior secondary school. We, rightly, abolished that practice; but we continue to sort the pupils out by "internal selection" on the same dubious basis.

So, here is our challenge, if we choose to accept it. Focus on eliminating poverty and inequality and continue to invest in early years education which focuses on play, exploration and creativity. Revisit the principles and values of the original Curriculum for Excellence report and look at education 3-18 as a seamless whole, where pupils are not selected and where learning for understanding is key. Abolish national exams (and the current national testing) and explore new ways of enabling students to demonstrate their achievements (not just narrow attainment). This way FE and HE would become comprehensive too, just like the schools.

Professor Brian Boyd, South Lanarkshire.