Statement: Exam results and return to school

Young people in Scotland will receive their exam results tomorrow. They have worked hard to achieve these results, despite the impact on their right to an education and disruption to SQA exams and assessments over two academic years.   

This year, standard National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher exams were replaced by an Alternative Certification Model which used teacher judgement to determine grades. Most candidates already know their results before confirmation tomorrow.

Important that young people’s achievements are celebrated

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said:

“We should rightly celebrate young people’s achievements particularly when they have worked hard to achieve these results, despite the impact on their right to an education and disruption to SQA exams and assessments over two academic years.   

“We should use this opportunity to celebrate everything else they have achieved during the global pandemic. Children and young people have been incredible. The right to education is about ensuring that they develop their minds, body, and talents to their fullest potential and the resilience, strength and courage that young people have demonstrated these past two years deserves the highest accolade.

“However, young people have told us they are worried that employers and places of further education will not value their results in the same way, because the assessment system has been different this year. They have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their progress despite a system which created huge challenges for them, and the teachers and wider school community supporting them. Employers, further and higher education should take a more holistic approach to understanding the development of young people in a year when they faced so much adversity. Many of the skills and strengths that young people have developed aren’t reflected in academic results.

The impact of the last two years on young people’s mental health

“Young people have been clear that they have experienced constant uncertainty over the last two years, they have told us about the pressure they were under, the inconsistencies across schools and between subjects, and the impact on their mental health and the lack of support to counter this.

“With the return to school imminent, mental health support needs to be readily available before young people hit crisis point. They have told us consistently that this should be in places where they learn.

No one should be disadvantaged because they were assessed during a global pandemic

“Despite these pressures, they have told us there has been the opportunity to develop other strengths and skills while working independently at home. The right to education is about developing children to their fullest potential and that growth is not fully reflected in a final grade or a mark.

“Even with the huge efforts of teachers, the wider school community, and the support of parents and carers, young people’s right to education has been severely compromised over the last two academic years. No one should be disadvantaged because they were assessed during a global pandemic.

“While most young people will be receiving a result which reflects their achievements, we remain concerned about issues such as the lack of a no-detriment process for appeals and the lack of processes for taking exceptional circumstances, such as bereavement or mental ill health, into account. It is important that young people who haven’t yet received a fair result are not forgotten.

Young people’s views must be meaningfully listened to around future assessment in Scotland

“As we look to the coming academic year, we are aware that many young people think that an alternative assessment model is the best way to recognise their progress and achievements, while others prefer end-of-year exams. Whatever happens, young people’s views must be meaningfully listened to and taken into account.”

Covid restrictions in schools

Today, most of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions were removed as the country left Level Zero. However, pupils and teachers in secondary schools must continue wearing masks in school, including during lessons, for up to six weeks after schools return and physical distancing of 1m remains in schools. Children will no longer have to self-isolate if identified as being a close contact of a positive case if they are symptomless and have had a negative PCR test. Whole class bubbles will no longer have to self-isolate, and children under 12 are exempt from wearing face coverings in shops and other indoor settings.

Bruce Adamson said:

“We wrote to the Minister for Children and Young People on July 9th to raise concerns and to ask the Scottish Government to consider its approach towards restrictions before schools return in August. We are pleased that the Government has outlined a more targeted and limited approach to self-isolation in schools. Periods of staying at home significantly restricted children’s rights to education, to good mental health, to family life, and to socialisation.

Use of face coverings must remain proportionate

“However, we remain concerned that there are inconsistencies in the loosening of restrictions for adults compared to children. Adults can now go to the pub, or out clubbing without a mask, yet young people have to sit in lessons in school all day wearing a face covering.

“Masks impact on young people’s learning and their time in school. They make socialising, communicating and accessing support harder.

“Mitigations in schools, including face coverings, are an important way to ensure all children and adults can safely attend school, including those who are at higher risk from Covid.  However, the use of face coverings must be proportionate and should be kept under regular review as vaccination becomes available to children and young people.

Reasoning behind necessary mitigations in schools must be shared with young people

“As part of the World Health Organization’s Technical Advisory Group on schooling during Covid-19, we have called for further evidence to ascertain the optimum set of mitigation strategies, including vaccination of children, that would achieve the full range of health, social and educational aspirations for the entire population, particularly children.

“During the last 18 months, children have consistently followed the rules to keep themselves and others safe. The reasoning behind necessary mitigations in schools must be shared with young people. Once again, we urge the Scottish Government to involve young people in these discussions and provide them with clear, consistent, and age-appropriate communication.”

Vaccination recommendations for some groups of under 18s

The Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that 16 and 17-year-olds are offered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. In July, the JCVI recommended that specific groups of children aged 12-15 be offered the same vaccine. That includes children with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s syndrome, immunosuppression, and multiple or severe learning disabilities. Those aged 12-17 who live with an immunosuppressed person will also be offered the vaccine.

Bruce Adamson said:

 “It is very welcome that 16 and 17-year-olds are now included in the vaccine rollout. Vaccination offers protection to life and the highest attainable standard of health, and will allow those who have had it to have confidence to participate in activities alongside those older people who have been vaccinated, knowing that they have the same level of protection. Young people want to feel safe and have choices available to them.

“Of course, the vaccine is not compulsory and before getting the vaccine, children should have clear information about the benefits and risks to allow them to make an informed decision. Parents have a crucial role in supporting their children’s choices, as do medical professionals in assessing whether older children can understand and consent, as they do with any childhood vaccination.

“When it comes to routinely offering 12-15 year olds the vaccine, we look to the international experience of countries already offering it.

“Reducing the impact of Covid and restrictions relies on older people getting vaccinated. Adults need to play their part in stopping the spread and the consequent impact of Covid restrictions on children.”

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