Teachers are facing increased workload “strain” amidst the difficulty of planning for multiple scenarios for secondary school exams next year, MSPs have said.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have said the Scottish Government must make more teacher jobs available to cope with three potential contingencies for the safe return of pupil examinations in 2022.

The Scottish Government confirmed this week that in-person school exams will return next year, “if safe to do” in light of any potential disruption caused by a fresh wave of Covid-19.

Depending on public health advice at the time, National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be held in spring 2022, Ministers said.

But in response to the announcement, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said the government needs to clarify the future for the under-fire exams regulator, the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA).

They called on the government to reconsider the role of Fiona Robertson as chief executive of the public agency, which has been heavily criticised for its role in the exams debacle of last year.

The party’s education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP said: “The lack of accountability at the top chipped away at the little trust that was left. The SQA needs to be reformed for the recovery, and that includes reconsidering who is in charge.”

The Scottish Government says the decision for exams to go ahead next year has been informed by public health advice and by the views of partners, including those on the National Qualifications Group, which includes representatives of young people, parents, teachers and other education professionals.

Due to uncertainty over the pandemic, two contingency plans will be in place, a decision it is feared will lead to “more workload strains” for teaching staff.

If there is further significant disruption to learning as a result of Covid-19, but it is still safe for exams to go ahead, there will be further modifications to courses and assessment.

If public health conditions do not allow for an exam diet to take place, awards will be made on teachers’ judgements based on normal in–year assessment. 

Wishart said: “Requiring teachers to simultaneously plan for three separate eventualities may mean yet more workload strains. With some teachers still without jobs, the Scottish Government must make more permanent jobs available to help ease those burdens.

“While an announcement at this point in time is welcome, it will be difficult for teachers, pupils and parents to have faith in these plans when the system continues to be presided over by the same people who caused such disruption and upset both this year and last.”

Scottish Conservatives also called on the government to rule out any scrapping of traditional exams over fears of a lowering of standards.

Shadow education Secretary Oliver Mundell MSP, said: “Those involved in Scottish education will be breathing a sigh of relief that exams look set to return next year. However this must not be a temporary reprieve from the SNP.

“Traditional exams are a cornerstone of Scotland’s educational system. They are the fairest and best way of judging what pupils know and what they can do. The SNP must commit to retaining them for the long-term.”

But the government says the SQA has reduced course content in comparison to a normal year to take account of the disruption to learning that young people have experienced.

According to education bosses, this will reduce the volume of assessment, which will allow for any lost learning caused by the pandemic, and will also ease teacher, lecturer and learner workload, while still maintaining the credibility of the qualifications.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Exams will take place next year if safe to do so. Fairness for learners sitting exams in 2022 is at the heart of our plans. Assessment modifications across national courses for the next academic session have already been confirmed by the SQA in recognition of the disruption to learning that young people have experienced. We will set out details on further support available for learners in September.

“Careful contingency planning has taken place in case there is further significant disruption to learning or if public health conditions do not allow for the holding of an examination diet. These contingencies offer stability for teachers and learners in the coming academic session and will allow their focus to be on normal practices in teaching, learning and assessment.  More detailed guidance will be issued by the SQA at the earliest opportunity.”