School closures and exam dithering harming pupils in Scotland, warns head

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The education of Scottish children is being put at risk by coronavirus rules which are causing the closure of schools by the back door, a leading headteacher has warned.

Rod Grant, the headmaster at Clifton Hall near Edinburgh, criticised continued uncertainty over whether this year’s exams would go ahead and suggested decisions being taken by SNP ministers were based on “what England does” rather than what they believe to be right.

He spoke out following confirmation that a decision over whether traditional exams would go ahead may not be taken until late March, and the publication of evidence that showed prolonged school closures had a devastating impact on young people.

‘No one is listening’

In a blog posted on the private school’s Facebook page, Mr Grant said harms caused by school closures were being made clear to politicians a year ago but that “no one in government was listening”.

He called on ministers to “stop dithering” over this year’s exams, saying pupils and teachers were suffering due to the “constant state of flux”. He claimed if there was uncertainty it would be better to cancel them now.

He wrote: “Perhaps, however, our government is waiting to see what England does – that seems to be the way political decisions in Scotland are currently being handled.”

Despite claims that keeping schools open was a priority, he said some were being forced to send home “entire year groups for the duration of January” because of staff shortages caused by self-isolation rules.

“When you try to protect one part of society from Covid, it would appear you end up crippling another,” he added.

“In our desperate attempt to ‘save the NHS’ we may have inadvertently ‘endangered our education system’ and, in so doing, our children. That is inexcusable.”

Rampant grade inflation

For the past two years, traditional exams have been cancelled due to the virus, with grades instead awarded based on teacher judgment.

In both years there has been rampant grade inflation with teenagers recording the best ever results.

Daniel Wyatt, rector at Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow, said on Monday he was “dismayed” that the decision over exams, due to begin on April 26, may come as late as March.

He said: “Put simply, it is not acceptable and shows complete disregard for the mental health of pupils and staff following two years of disruption, distraction and disappointment, all against a backdrop of coping with the impact of the pandemic.

“Exams must go ahead unless there is a significant health concern far greater than we are experiencing with the omicron variant.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said its priority was “to keep schools safely open and to minimise further disruption to education”.

She added: “The clear intention is for exams to go ahead. They will only be cancelled if public health advice says it isn’t safe for them to take place.”

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