Scotland risks seeing a widening of the attainment gap if resources are not ploughed in to ensure all pupils can access revision support ahead of this year's exams. 

The warning from union leaders comes after senior figures at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) told schools it was their “clear intention” that the 2022 tests go ahead.

They have also indicated they are preparing to provide additional assistance to candidates given “significant” disruption caused by Covid.

The change – which SQA bosses have suggested is more likely than not - would see pupils given advance notice of topics so they can focus their final revision effort in the run-up to exams season.

However, the guidance would not be made available until March to prevent a narrowing of teaching and learning that might affect a learner’s readiness for the next stage of their education.

Leaders at the EIS union said such a move made sense and would help exam performance. Providing the advice too early would result in “teaching to the test”, they added.

READ MORE: Covid causes least 58,000 pupil absences last week

However, they warned that the Omicron variant's continued spread could result in some schools struggling to cover course content before the start of exams. General secretary Larry Flanagan also said resources would be needed to boost revision support for all candidates and avert a situation in which pupils are put at a disadvantage because their families cannot pay for extra tuition.

The SQA’s latest position has been set out in a communication to schools and colleges. It states: “It is still the clear intention for the 2022 SQA exams to take place in April–June.

“Exams will only be cancelled by the Scottish Government if public health advice restricts physical gatherings at the time of the exams.

"We are closely monitoring the educational impact of the pandemic with our partners on the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group so that we can continue to provide as much support as possible for learners, most of whom will be sitting exams for the first time.”

Although most schools opened as planned after the Christmas break, many are struggling to cope with teacher shortages.

HeraldScotland: Larry Flanagan is concerned about equal access to revision support.Larry Flanagan is concerned about equal access to revision support.

There are reports that the pressures have resulted in pupils being herded into areas such as canteens or halls, with some establishments sending S4-6 students home.

One headteacher said he knew of schools where absences had forced senior management to ask entire year groups to learn remotely for the rest of January.

The Herald has also been told that teachers and specialist support staff are being pulled away from their normal duties to look after children or provide general supply cover.

READ MORE: SNP Education Secretary admits exams decision may not be made until end of March

In an apparent acknowledgement of the extent and seriousness of the problems, the SQA’s communication adds: “We are actively monitoring levels of disruption across the country, including levels of learner and staff absence.

"If significant levels of disruption continue, we will soon move to what has been referred to in previous communications as Scenario 2, which means supporting learners with their final revision in the immediate run-up to the exams.

“In this scenario, revision support, for example guidance on topics, will be provided to help learners maximise their exam performance and reduce exam stress. There will not be any further changes to courses or course assessments, over and above those already in place through the existing modifications.

“If we move to Scenario 2, revision support will be issued in March for most courses, to allow as much time as possible for learning and teaching.”

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said she was keeping a close eye on the situation.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said she was keeping a close eye on the situation.

Mr Flanagan said providing students with a “heads-up regarding exam content” would aid revision.

But he added: “It’s neither a substitute nor a solution to disrupted teaching and learning which could mean, in some instances, that not all coursework will have been overtaken by May.

“Councils and agencies such as Education Scotland need to address the ongoing disruption being experienced by students now.

“Come April, there will need to be measures and resources in place to ensure that all students have equitable access to revision support and not only those whose parents can afford additional tuition, or the SQA’s guidance could actually widen the equity gap.”

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said previously that the situation was being kept under “very, very close review”.