School pupils in Scotland have been warned against sharing details of assessments on social media.

In a letter from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) sent to schools on Monday, director of qualifications development Dr Gill Stewart said they had been made aware of “very serious incidents” of assessments being shared.

The letter goes on to say “appropriate penalties” should be applied to pupils in breach of exam rules, but these should be used by individual schools and not by the SQA.

As a result of coronavirus, the exams in Scotland were cancelled and replaced with internal assessments, but critics have claimed these are exams by another name.

The letter said the SQA provided “optional secure assessment materials” for schools to use, but given the extra flexibility afforded to teachers and schools this year, pupils across the country are sitting exams at different times, meaning questions could be leaked.

The Times Educational Supplement Scotland reported on Monday of an “SQA black market” on the social media site TikTok, with pupils “begging” for questions to be shared before they sit their assessment.

The letter said: “SQA has been made aware of very serious incidents involving candidates sharing confidential assessment content on social media.

“We are taking this matter very seriously and have contacted the centres to ensure that the posts are removed as soon as possible, and that any candidate malpractice concerns are managed locally within the centres.”

Dr Stewart added: “Learners should all be reminded that they must not discuss or share the content of assessment materials.

“If you become aware of a candidate malpractice concern, your own centre’s malpractice procedures are to be applied as quickly as possible to contain any potential security breaches.

“If the malpractice investigation finds that there has been candidate malpractice, then appropriate penalties should be applied.”

The letter concluded: “Maintaining the confidentiality of these assessment materials is critical to the credibility of the alternative certification model.”

At the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon insisted grades would be allocated by teacher judgement after being challenged about pupils facing exam-style assessments despite claims that exams had been scrapped.

The First Minister said she will “listen to concerns and anxieties of young people and teachers” but said that teacher judgement needed to be backed up by evidence of pupils’ attainment.

She added: “It’s important to remember the model was developed by the National Qualifications 2021 group which includes teacher and EIS representation.

“The group has been clear there’s no requirement to replicate a full, formal exam or prelim diet.

“The awarding of qualifications, will be based on teacher judgement, not on past results, not on algorithms, and the evidence for each individual learner doesn’t have to be the same as long as it meets the conditions of assessment relative to the course.

“This is an anxious time for young people, I recognise that, and great care has been and will continue to be taken to make sure that they are supported as fully as possible.”