SNP ministers are under pressure to speed up plans for the replacement of Scotland’s exams agency after it published long-awaited revision support material that has been branded insulting, unfair and shambolic.

It has also emerged that a Government-commissioned report on the future of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and other education reform matters will come out on Thursday.

The SQA’s latest package is aimed at assisting learners ahead of this year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher diet – the first since 2019.

Exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. They will only be scrapped again if public health measures prevent physical gatherings.

READ MORE: Education Secretary under fire over exam fairness

The SQA said earlier this year that guidance would be released to aid revision in view of ongoing disruption and high absence rates linked to the Omicron variant.

It has now produced what senior figures insist is a “wide-ranging package of support to ease pressure on learners”. SQA bosses also stressed their materials had been produced in collaboration with pupils and subject specialist teachers across Scotland.

Help is being provided in three ways: advance notice of content that will, or will not, be assessed in the exam; study guides offering hints and tips on how to approach different types of question; short study notes that can be be taken into the exam hall by learners in a small number of courses.

Fiona Robertson, SQA chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer, said: “These revision materials and guidance are part of SQA’s commitment to providing a substantial package of additional support for learners – which includes significant modifications to this year's exams and assessments – as they make the final preparations for their exams.

“The measures are the fairest and best way we can help support all learners, while also maintaining the integrity, credibility and standard of the qualifications.”

The Herald: SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson has defended the exams support package.SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson has defended the exams support package.

She added: “Everyone at SQA recognises the professionalism of Scotland’s teachers and lecturers and their commitment to learners across the country.

"Scotland’s young people are to be commended for their hard work and resilience as they overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic.”

However, the support package has been strongly criticised on social media.

Ewan Knight, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP), tweeted: “Personally I find the SQA’s ‘helpful’ advice insulting. Being ‘Read the question carefully’ and ‘If there are 6 marks, you should make at least 6 relevant points in your answer’. Everyone knows this already.

"The difference in support depending on subjects is also awful.”

Fellow MSYP Fraser Davidson said SQA leaders had “disgraced” themselves.

Reaction from the teaching profession has also been negative.

Nuzhat Uthmani, an activist on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) issues, tweeted: “Looks like new guidance for exams is out from SQA finally but response from teachers is not good. Some with advice such as 'read the question' is insulting and confusion caused by what 'not' to study instead of what will be in the exam - for example, many areas in maths overlap.”

Underlining equity concerns, one faculty lead for science, chemistry and biology tweeted: “Why is there so much difference between subjects?”

Political opposition leaders have been quick to pick up on the anger.

Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, called for the SQA's "abolition" to be accelerated. “The SQA should have been abolished long before now and this shambles proves it beyond doubt,” he said. "Advising students to read the exam questions is so obvious that it is insulting.

"The Scottish Government’s defence of the leadership of this body is misplaced and misjudged.”

The Herald: Michael Marra has submitted an urgent question regarding concern over exam support material published today by the SQA.Michael Marra has submitted an urgent question regarding concern over exam support material published today by the SQA.

Scottish Labour’s Michael Marra submitted an urgent question to Parliament on what he described as the SQA's “latest unacceptable shambles”. However, it was rejected by Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone.

Mr Marra tweeted: “Pupils and teachers deserve answers from the Government and [Education Secretary] Shirley-Anne Somerville must take responsibility. Once more, the SQA shows contempt for those it is meant to serve.”

READ MORE: Pupils to be told what's in exams and graded 'generously'

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, Oliver Mundell, said: “Pupils and parents have been left feeling patronised by the SQA’s so-called revision guides.

“These were meant to help kids after months of missed learning, and two years of botched exams by the SQA – but it’s little wonder some have branded them useless, when some of the advice is so basic.

“Suggestions that pupils check their spelling is not what the SNP promised would be in these guides, and will not help those struggling with their revision.

“Our schoolkids have lost trust in the exams board after suffering at the hands of the SQA for so long. It is time the SNP took responsibility for the SQA’s catalogue of catastrophes and reformed their failing quango.”

The Herald: Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens has joined the criticism.Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens has joined the criticism.

Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, called the exams support package "woefully inadequate". He said: "The documents should be withdrawn and immediately revised. It is insulting to issue senior pupils with advice as meaningless as ‘try to answer every question you are asked’.

"After so much disruption throughout this term, these study guides should have made clear which topic areas would and would not come up in exams.

"Students should have been given the information required to focus both their revision and any catch-up learning still needed after periods of Covid-related absence. Instead, many of these guides are full of bland platitudes and the kind of basic advice already being issued by schools and colleges. Extra support was needed, extra support was promised but that is not what the qualifications agency has delivered.”

Learners can access the revision support from Ushare, the SQA’s free online platform. Documents will be available by lunchtime today.

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.