Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire at Holyrood after she refused to say if schoolchildren will sit exams next year – or whether her Government could scrap the traditional assessments.
Exams were cancelled this year and last due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the First Minister said ministers will monitor the situation with the virus over the summer before announcing in August if they will take place in 2022.
She added that experts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will submit a report to ministers that same month, which will “help to inform” decisions on the future of exams.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said “there is a debate in Scotland right now about what the correct balance between traditional exams and continuous assessment is”.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross challenged her on that issue, saying: “After being in government for 14 years, First Minister for seven, and having pledged education would be her number one priority, I think people across Scotland will expect the First Minister to be able to say if she is for or against exams.”
Ms Sturgeon stressed there is a need to “get all of this right” as she said ministers have to carefully consider the place of “traditional exams” within the “future of qualifications”.
She added: “No decisions have been taken around that.”
Mr Ross cited comments from education expert Professor Lindsay Paterson that it is “unlikely that a system that relied wholly on coursework would ever command public confidence”.
The Conservative leader urged the First Minister not to ditch traditional school assessments.
“Scottish Conservatives firmly believe that traditional exams are the best and fairest way for young people to show what they know and what they can do,” he said.
“Her Government no longer seems to value the traditions that have served us well, that helped the First Minister and I get from a great local school to this Parliament.
“Our education system has always been distinct, it is uniquely our own, a cornerstone of what makes us Scottish.
“If the SNP remove the focus on fundamentals, if they stop valuing core knowledge, if they ditch exams, isn’t her Government abandoning the very things that made Scotland’s schools great?”
Ms Sturgeon said exams “are important”, but the “most important principle” is for the country to “have a robust and respected system for awarding qualifications to young people”.
She added: “We have asked the OECD to do further work, they will report to us in August, we will take account of all of that and this Parliament then will have the opportunity to debate this.”
The exchanges came as youngsters across Scotland are preparing to find out what grades they have been awarded for qualifications based on teacher assessments.
While the Scottish Qualifications Authority is to be scrapped, Ms Sturgeon said she still has “confidence” in the work it is currently doing “around the certification of national qualifications”.