Examinations (Mitigation for Strike Action)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd March 2023.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

3. To ask the Scottish Government what mitigations the Scottish Qualifications Authority will have in place during this year’s exam diet for any senior phase pupils who have been adversely affected by targeted strike action. (S6O-02047)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The SQA confirmed in April 2022 that existing modifications to the national qualifications from 2022 are being continued in the 2023 academic session. Those modifications vary by subject and level, and they include reductions in course assessment, requiring less coursework than in a normal year and leaving more time for learning and teaching.

The SQA has also confirmed plans for a sensitive approach to grading, dependent on the impact of any disruption on exam and coursework performance. Although they were implemented to acknowledge the on-going impacts of Covid, those measures will also help to mitigate disruption arising from the industrial action.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The cabinet secretary will know that all pupils missed five days of school due to strikes but that pupils in targeted constituencies, including those in the First Minister’s constituency of Glasgow Southside, missed a further three days. Some Scottish Labour members, including me, have been contacted by pupils who are worried about how that will affect their exam performance and about how exactly the SQA will take that into account. When my colleague Michael Marra raised the issue with the cabinet secretary, she said that she was engaging with the appropriate local authorities to understand the impact of the action on their schools and to explore what further actions can be taken—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please ask a question.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

What exactly does that mean? Does it mean that pupils who lost out will be identified for further support?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

T he original question was about the work that the SQA has done, which is relevant to young people across Scotland. Education Scotland is also undertaking work. That includes the national e-learning offer, which provides learners with a searchable database of almost 25,000 regularly updated resources across hundreds of courses for senior phase learners.

I have also ensured that I am kept up to date with what is happening in each area where targeted strike action took place. I understand that two of the three targeted high schools managed to open to some extent during the strike days, which is important. Schools, local authorities and our agencies are working hard to provide support not only for pupils in the targeted areas but across Scotland. I am, of course, paying particular attention to the work that we can do to support children and young people who were impacted by that targeted action.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

A number of members have supplementary questions. Those will have to be brief, as will the responses.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary say something about the study support that is available through the national e-learning offer, the resources that are being provided for senior phase learners through the Perth and Kinross virtual campus and the extra support that is being provided over the Easter break as a result of the very positive recent budget decisions by the Scottish National Party Administration?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I have already mentioned some of the work that is happening in our national e-learning offer, including e-Sgoil. That work is available to our young people and includes a mix of live teaching and recorded lessons during the evenings as well as study support over the Easter break.

Schools in Perth and Kinross have been encouraging young people to sign up to that.

I have also been advised that every school in Perth and Kinross has sought to provide a range of on-going support to young people using the mix of online and in-person approaches, and I welcome that.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Can I tempt the cabinet secretary to be even more specific about the nature of the support that is being provided? That was the subject of the original question. For example, is she offering councils some additional funding to pay for one-on-one tutoring or group tutoring? Is she advocating that schools actively create virtual interactive tutorials for pupils so that they can get additional support? How about a library of virtual lessons? What about some peer support programmes? What specifically are the Government and its agencies doing? These things do not have to cost much.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

As I have already said, there is a searchable database of nearly 25,000 senior phase resources for learners. That support is of the same scale as the support that the Government ensured was there during the Covid pandemic. It is important to recognise that the Government has continued, through Education Scotland and particularly e-Sgoil, to provide support for children and young people at this difficult time. I thank everyone who is continuing to support our children and young people, both in schools and virtually, in the work that they do.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

If the SQA is showing willingness to mitigate the impact of strikes, will the cabinet secretary indicate how it can take into account the double whammy that some senior phase pupils in Shetland have experienced with adverse weather resulting in school closures for up to 10 days as well as schools having chronic staff shortages, which has meant that, in some cases, pupils have had no dedicated subject teacher for a full school year?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The materials that I have mentioned—both the materials from the SQA and the national e-learning offer—are available across Scotland. That is important, and I am sure that there is a role for all members in encouraging their constituents to be aware of the support that is out there for them.

There is also a role for councils. I recognise that, in some areas, there are challenges in attracting teachers in specific subjects, and we would certainly expect councils to provide support for schools in that regard, on top of everything that is already being provided by the national agencies that I have mentioned in my previous answers.