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Covid-19 (Education)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I thank Jamie Greene for the expression of support for the Government on these questions. He is absolutely right that the decisions are difficult to take. I am certain that my decision on the SQA exam diet in particular will not be universally welcomed. However, having weighed up carefully the three options that I expressed in my answer to Graham Simpson in the Parliament on Tuesday, I consider that it is by far the most robust option that we can take forward.

On early years, in my statement I tried to be as clear as I can be. We expect state schools and nurseries to close in respect of the ordinary learning activities that are undertaken there, but the buildings may of course be used to provide support for vulnerable young people and for the children of those who are key workers in the anti-virus effort.

I cannot direct PVI sector nurseries to close, but I ask them to follow the advice, which means that they should close. However, I am encouraging local authorities to work closely with the PVI sector, to identify how the children of key workers and of families with vulnerability could be supported in a different operating model in the PVI sector, if that is possible. I recognise that that alone would not provide sustainability to the PVI sector, which is why I have set out our commitment to maintain the payments to the PVI sector, despite the fact that children will not be there, to sustain income. I have also set out some flexibility around the resources that are inherent in the 2020-21 budget, which are to be deployed flexibly to try to provide sustainability. That is in addition to the measures that Fiona Hyslop set out yesterday in relation to business support in general.

Out of all that, I hope that we are able to actively support the PVI sector. The minister responsible for early years is at my side, and she will be actively engaging with the sector to ensure that we understand the difficulties and challenges.

On the second point, in relation to key workers, I would encourage any individual who has a critical contribution to make to our economy to talk first to their school or early learning setting, to identify whether they can be provided with some support to ensure that their children can be educated or cared for in this period. That will be the first port of call, and our local authorities will be supporting that effort.

On the point about the exam diet, as I set out in my statement, the chief examiner’s current thinking is that the material that will be used as part of the assessment will include the coursework that young people are ordinarily required to contribute for their exams; assessments by teachers of young people’s expected performance, which should be submitted to the SQA annually; and information about prior attainment, which is particularly relevant to higher candidates. The chief examiner will set out further details of the approach that will be taken.

On the dates, the chief examiner is working on the basis that the awards will still be made on 4 August 2020 at the latest, which will enable young people to secure university entrance. It may well be that the results can be posted at an earlier stage. If that is possible, we will try to do that. However, we will be aiming to achieve that on 4 August.