John Swinney is to update MSPs on the plans for school exams in Scotland next year, after the 2020 diet was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The education secretary is to make a speech at Holyrood addressing the row over the 2020 exams and plans for 2021.

There has been speculation that exams for National 5 qualifications could be dropped and replaced with coursework.

Mr Swinney has previously said the government’s “objective” is to run a full diet of exams next spring.

However, some other politicians and unions have called for them to be cancelled and replaced with teacher assessments, saying the risk of school closures disrupting students is too great.

Scotland’s school exams were cancelled for the first time ever in 2020, with the country locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority initially drew up results using a system which took teacher estimates for each pupil, then moderated them based on results from previous years.

However, this sparked an outcry after 125,000 results were downgraded, with claims the moderation system unfairly penalised children at schools which had historically not performed as well.

The government subsequently agreed to accept the original teacher estimates of grades, and commissioned an independent review of the row.

Mr Swinney could potentially discuss the findings of the review by Prof Mark Priestly as part of his Holyrood statement on Wednesday.

The education secretary is also due to set out plans for how the 2021 exams will run.

By Lucy Whyte, BBC Scotland education reporter

With teachers and pupils still catching up from missed time together during lockdown, time out of class this term if they have to self-isolate, and the possibility of further lockdowns, the idea of running the exams as normal looks extremely unlikely.

Instead, one idea which has been widely discussed is cancelling final exams for National 5s altogether, instead grading these qualifications with tests and coursework throughout the year.

Highers and Advanced Highers would then be pushed back by a couple of weeks, but would largely be able to continue as normal.

This would also free up more assessors who would usually work on National 5s, meaning grades would still be ready by the beginning of August as usual – which would avoid a knock-on effect for entry to university or college.

There are still concerns the school year may be disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, with further restrictions to be set out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon directly before Mr Swinney’s statement.

However, Ms Sturgeon stressed that any changes would not amount to a full lockdown, and would not involve closing schools “even partially”.

In September, Mr Swinney told parents that the government’s “objective was to run a full 2021 exam diet”, although he said consideration was being given to whether they could be pushed back in the year.

He said: “I can’t foresee how much disruption there will be between now and next spring, either on individual, class or school level.

“I am determined to ensure every student has fairness and a fair crack at the whip next year, no matter their experience.”

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh, said clarity from Mr Swinney was “urgently needed” so teachers and pupils could prepare.

“If the exams are to be scrapped for the National 5s then there has to be much more attention to coursework… and that has to become the proper basis of awards next summer,” he said.

“The teachers need to know what to mark, they need to be able to tell students that a particular piece of work isn’t just a practice – it’s the real thing.

“When it comes to the prelim exams, instead of being a practice for the main thing they may well be the main thing – so the students have to be prepared and that of course requires teachers to know what is to happen.”

Opposition parties have been split on whether the exams should go ahead.

The Scottish Greens have called for the full 2021 diet to be cancelled and replaced with teacher assessment of work completed throughout the year, with education spokesman Ross Greer saying that “a year of constant uncertainty isn’t fair on teachers or pupils”.

However, the Scottish Conservatives have called on ministers to “save as much of the 2021 exam diet as possible”.

Education spokesman Jamie Greene said it was “incredible that schools have been back for nearly two months but they still have no idea what they are planning for”.

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