School exams might not be able to take place next year but a contingency plan for assessment should be in place next month, the Education Secretary has said.

John Swinney said he hopes he will give “clarity and certainty” about an alternative system for next year’s exams before the October holidays.

He told the Scottish Parliament Education Committee that in normal exams there could be hundreds of pupils in the one hall but current rules only allow for a fraction of that.

He said: “None of us can foresee the disruption between now and the start of the proposed exam diet in April next year. Nor can we be certain in April it will be possible to undertake an exam process.

“There will be some schools where 200 young people will need to be accommodated in an exam hall.

“The largest we can have is probably about 50.”

MSPs said teachers were worried about the extra workload and Ross Greer, Green MSP, said it was unfair to expect teachers to prepare for a twin track approach of exams and for results based on assessments.

Mr Swinney said: “I would want to avoid that situation happening of increased workload.”

He added the “challenging environment” in the context of education in a pandemic is already putting pressure on workloads.

He added: “Discussions are taking place through the Education Recovery Group. I’m not in a position now to say definitely but I would want to be in a position before the October break to provide clarity.”

Mr Greer, following the meeting, said: “Pressing ahead on the assumption that exams can go ahead as normal next May is a huge risk, given the potential of local or national lockdowns.

"The only reliable solution is to cancel the exams now and grade pupils based on their work throughout the year, avoiding both the risk of exams and the chaos of last month’s grading scandal.”