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News: Student helpline set to open as Scottish results day looms

Posted 27 July, 2022 by Nina Joynson

With thousands of young people soon to receive SQA exam results, Skills Development Scotland is opening its careers helpline to support students in deciding what to do next.

More than 140,000 pupils in Scotland are set to receive their National, Higher and Advanced Higher results on Tuesday 9 August 2022.

Those pupils, along with their parents and carers, are being offered support with results through the dedicated helpline established to offer impartial careers advice.

Created by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the helpline is marking its 30th anniversary of helping students over the phone this year.

The helpline – 0808 100 8000 – will be live from 8am on results day to assist anyone who needs support on their next steps.

Staffed by more than 50 careers advisors, pupils can get advice on colleges and universities, Confirmation and Clearing, apprenticeships, jobs and volunteering options.

The helpline aims to curb anxieties that many students face after receiving their results. After calling in 2021, one pupil noted that:

“This was just incredible. I went from worrying and panicking about what my next step would be and all my doubts were cleared plus more, thank you very much for that.”

Sharon McIntyre, Head of Career Information, Advice and Guidance Operations at SDS, said:

“We know that receiving results has been a very different experience for young people and their families over the last couple of years, and although a sense of normality prevails, there is still a lot of anxiety and uncertainty at this time for pupils, parents and carers.

“It’s important to reassure people that whatever their results are, our advisers are there to provide support and expert advice on their many options, no matter where you are in Scotland.”

The helpline will be open until Thursday 17 August, after which time students and their parents or carers are urged to visit their local SDS centre, visit the My World of Work website (link below), or speak directly to a school advisor.

Click here to find support from My World of Work

A photo of classroom desks and chairs lined up in rows, in an exam hall.

News: Schools face new disruption to learning as exams approach

Posted 22 March 2022, by Nina Joynson

A new spike in Covid cases has forced councils to consider a return to remote learning as teaching absences continue to affect Scottish schools.

Three councils – City of Edinburgh, Fife, and Dumfries and Galloway – have voiced concerns that changes to teaching might be necessary as staff absences reach new highs.

Several schools across the country have already returned to blended or remote learning in some capacity, leaving parents scrambling to meet changing childcare needs.

The news comes two years after the first lockdown which saw schools close in March 2020, and just weeks before senior pupils face their first formal exam season since 2019.

High levels of staff absence

Updated figures published by the Scottish Government show that last week saw the highest recorded staff absences for this academic year, with 6,058 staff absent last Tuesday, 15 March.

On the same day, 32,649 pupils were also absent for reasons relating to Covid-19, with two-thirds of secondary students having lost teaching time due to the virus this year.

Speaking to Tes Scotland, Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said that teachers are coping by prioritising senior pupils with upcoming examinations. This has had consequences for younger pupils, with many being taught in larger groups and some now in 'part-time education', having been sent home or returned to a blended learning approach.

Concerns as exam season begins

The SQA exams will begin for S4 to S6 pupils next month, and the potential return to remote learning has fuelled further concern that these students have not received sufficient and adequate education to prepare them.

This will be the first time many have sat formal examinations, creating added pressure for students who are studying for crucial Higher qualifications.

An end to routine testing

The figures come just as the Scottish Government announced an end to routine testing for those who have no symptoms from 18 April.

Staff and pupils were previously advised to test twice weekly, regardless of symptoms. This recommendation will end after the Easter holidays, despite increasing absence rates and many students entering exam season.

The EIS has called for the decision to be reversed and the guidance maintained but the request was rejected by education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, leaving many to question how schools will cope as the term continues.

A hand holding a pencil filling in an exam questionnaire on a light desk

News: SQA comes under fire for new revision materials

Posted 9 March 2022, by Nina Joynson

There are revived calls for the SQA to be replaced as the authority publishes new exam guidance that many call ‘patronising’ and ‘useless’.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has faced backlash over their new exam guidance, published this week. .

The materials, originally promised in February, were supposed to help students after their continued disruption to learning during the pandemic. However, they have been widely criticised as failing to meet the expectations of pupils, teachers, and politicians

The authority was first mocked on Monday evening when the materials were published a day early by accident. The SQA later issued an apology on Twitter.

Criticism over 'basic' advice

Most of the backlash, however, relates to the content of the resources. When officially published on Tuesday, many took to social media to describe them as giving basic and ‘useless’ advice, and being ‘patronising’ and ‘ridiculous’.

The materials have also been criticised for being unbalanced with some subjects receiving detailed guidance while others included information already well known to students.

Pupils preparing for their Higher Physics and Chemistry exams have been advised that “it’s always a good idea to spell words correctly” while those sitting Advanced Higher History have been told “remember to answer what the question is asking”.

A number of MSPs were vocal in their disapproval. Michael Marra, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, tweeted:

“I have submitted an Urgent Question today regarding the latest unacceptable shambles from the @SQANews

Pupils and teachers deserve answers from the Government and @S_A_Somerville must take responsibility.

Once more, the SQA shows contempt for those it is meant to serve.”

Post-pandemic support

Exams start next month for pupils studying National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications for the first time since 2019 when formal examinations were cancelled due to COVID-19.

The materials were released with a statement from chief executive Fiona Robertson, describing them as "part of the SQA's commitment to providing a substantial package of additional support" to reduce the pandemic's impact on students' education.

The aim of the resources was to narrow the gap in education over the last year, with students facing differing levels of disruption, and support, due to location, social inequalities and digital access.

Wider education reform

This latest SQA controversy has put the SNP under further pressure to replace the authority.

Last year, independent advisor Ken Muir was commissioned by the Scottish Government to undertake a review of Education Scotland and the SQA’s retirement, drawing on 800 consultation responses from organisations, groups and individuals and 4000 from children and young people.

The results of the review – including recommendations on the future of Scottish qualifications – are expected to be published on Thursday (10 March).

‘No detriment on appeals’: call for urgent change to exams certification process

3 June 2021

Children in Scotland is supporting calls for an urgent change to the exams appeals process and highlighting wider failures in engagement with young people following the SQA’s announcement of plans for the alternative certification of results.

The charity’s position is based on the views and evidence of young people it works with and comes ahead of today’s education debate at Holyrood.

Amy Woodhouse, Children in Scotland’s Joint Interim Chief Executive and Head of Policy, Projects & Participation said:

“We have been talking to young people about their exam concerns for over a year now, and unfortunately their message to us, the SQA and to Scottish Government remains largely unchanged.

The decisions made don't seem to reflect their views or needs. They seem unhelpful and confusing and are likely to cause further worry rather than ameliorate young people's concerns.

Amongst many problems apparent with the 2021 assessments and the SQA’s proposals for the Alternative Certification Model is the appeals process. Under the plans, any appeal by a young person carries the risk of their result being downgraded and is therefore a significant disincentive to them.

We believe that there should be a rule of ‘no detriment on appeals’ and that all appeals must be considered on a case by case, individual basis.

We are particularly concerned about the impact this process may have on young people with additional support needs, and we ask Scottish Government what considerations are being given to their needs in this process.

We fully support the position of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament. They have identified flaws in the appeals process; the barriers faced by young people with additional needs accessing education over the past year; and notably tokenistic engagement from Scottish Government with young people on the issue of assessments.

We are very concerned that few lessons have been learnt from the 2020 SQA review last year, which we supported young people to take part in. The review recognised the importance of pupil voice, acknowledging that 'pupils need an input into this’ and that teachers and pupils should be consulted because they have 'a lot of good ideas'.

It was clear at this stage that children and young people wanted meaningful dialogue and input into what their experience of assessments in 2021 would be. This has not happened.

Young people on the group that contributed to the review said of the 2020 exam programme that it happened too quickly and was inconsistent: 'They pushed us off a cliff'.

Discussing the lack of communication with them in 2020, they said 'We were never reassured'. It was clear at this stage that children and young people wanted meaningful dialogue and input into what their experience of assessments in 2021 would be.

Our position on this issue is directly informed by the views of young people we have worked with during the pandemic.

Members of our children and young people’s advisory group Changing our World told us that, on this issue they want ‘change, not talk’.

They said they would like to see greater choice over assessments; a more holistic approach; and ‘less stressful’ graded projects throughout the year rather than a rush of intense assessment at the end. They have talked about assessments as being a source of real stress and anxiety.

They also told us that a rights-based approach to education must involve engaging with children and young people in a genuine, not tokenistic way.

Young people participating in the Education Recovery Youth Panel, set up to develop the response of the education system to Covid, also highlighted the need for a more holistic approach, arguing for different models of assessment for different people and the inappropriateness of a ‘one size fits all’ model.

Members of the Inclusion Ambassadors network we work with have raised the issue of problems in engagement with home learning and worries about how this will affect their ability to engage with exams and assessments.

Evidence from the Inclusion Ambassadors and our My Rights My Say service suggests that many young people with additional needs are contending with particular stress and uncertainty in relation to exams and assessments.

In total, this evidence confirms to us what is already recognised: young people’s mental health and wellbeing has been severely affected by the impact of coronavirus over the past year – and their experience of assessments has added a further completely unnecessary layer of stress, anxiety and exhaustion.

The evidence about what young people want is there and clear to see. The SQA and Scottish Government have failed in their responsibility to act on it.”

Inclusion Ambassadors

The group was set up to ensure views of young people with ASN are heard in education discussions

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Changing our World

Our children and young people's advisory group guide our work

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My Rights, My Say

The service can help children exercise their rights to have a say in their education

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Education Recovery Youth Panel

The group is helping to develop the response of the education system to Covid

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Enquire is the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning

Click here to visit the website

2021-26 Manifesto

Evidence from young people shaped the development of our Manifesto

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Participation through the Pandemic

This peer research project looks at child engagement following Covid's impact

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Exams review decision ‘reflects commitment to equalities and values young people’s views’

7 October 2020

Children in Scotland has responded to this afternoon’s announcement by the Scottish Government that in 2021 National 5 exams will be replaced by a system where grades are awarded based on coursework and teacher judgement.

Higher and Advanced Higher exams will go ahead, Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney told the Scottish Parliament.

We welcome publication of the report by Professor Mark Priestley and in particular its recommendations for:

  • A commitment to embedding equalities in all aspects of the development of qualifications systems
  • The development of more systematic processes for working with and engaging young people, as stakeholders and rights holders in education
  • The development of a clear communications strategy, co-constructed with stakeholders, to ensure that the extraordinary arrangements for 2021 are as fully as possible understood by all parties; and
  • A review of qualification appeals systems, including consideration of the rights and roles of young people, in the context of the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scottish law.

Children in Scotland CEO Jackie Brock said:

“The Priestley review valued the views and engagement of young people and this is demonstrated in the central role they are being given in the recommendations.

“We are pleased that the Scottish Government has accepted these and we look forward to working with young people and others to ensure they create a credible and exemplary approach to assessing the hard work and high standards achieved by young people across Scotland.”

Review of National Qualifications Experience 2020

Recommendations by Professor Mark Priestley have been published

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Programme for government: our view

We welcomed pledges on youth jobs and said more ambition was needed on fighting poverty

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UNCRC incorporation 'to the max' welcome

Find out why we back full incorporation and read our consultation response

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