SCOTLAND’S Education Secretary has warned that a decision on whether this year’s school exams go ahead amid the pandemic may not be taken until the end of March.

The Scottish Government has been urged to be upfront with parents, pupils and teachers about the plans for this year’s exam diet, with the Conservatives warning that “a third year of last-minute disruption is unacceptable”.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Shirley-Anne Somerville insisted it was “still very much the intention” for a full exam diet to go ahead this year.

She added that “modifications have already been put in place to take account of the fact that learning is still being disrupted”, adding that “the SQA made that announcement before the summer holidays”.

The Education Secretary stressed that two contingency plans have been drawn up including“one for if we got to the diet and for public health reasons, the exam diet can’t take place”.

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She said: “Then, young people would have professional judgement of teachers being used, based on evidence.

“We also have another mitigation – a contingency that’s ready to be used, if necessary, if we see even further disruption to learning over the next couple of terms – but that children can still have exams.

“These contingencies are always in place and are being very, very closely monitored – particularly to see whether we’re at a tipping point between the mitigations at the moment and whether a contingency has to be put in place to take further mitigations.”

The Education Secretary was asked when parents and pupils can expect a firm decision on the plans.

She said: “The very latest we think it can be made is the end of March – but it doesn’t have to wait until then.”

Ms Somerville added that there is “very close assessment of different measures”, including absence rates, disruption to learning and “how things are going in general around schools”, adding that “there’s a basket of measures constantly being looked at by the SQA”.

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She added: “We’ll keep this under very, very close review because I understand that the build-up to exams is a very stressful time for young people in any year – but in a Covid year, of course, even more so.”

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell said: "The SNP appear to have learned no lessons from the last exams fiasco.

"March is far too late to ask pupils and teachers to prepare adequately. A third year of last-minute disruption is unacceptable.

"It would mean many pupils going through the entire senior phase with this cloud over them.

"Instead of unhelpful speculation the SNP should instead be focusing on keeping our schools open and keeping our kids in classrooms where they learn best."