Scottish education is at a watershed moment with the publication of a “highly significant” curriculum review, according to an expert in the field.
Professor Mark Priestley reckons findings of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development will lead to a shift in emphasis on traditional exams to more continuous assessment for senior pupils.
And he welcomed the planned establishment of a curriculum agency – one of a series of recommendations to strengthen the Curriculum for Excellence – to replace the under-fire Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Prof Priestley, of Stirling University, led the probe into last year’s SQA moderation process which saw more than 124,000 results downgraded before the results were revoked by the Scottish Government.
On Monday’s publication of the long-awaited OECD report on Scotland’s CfE, he said: “This is a highly significant watershed moment for Scottish education.
“It has brought together a whole range of issues which have really been impeding the successful development of the curriculum.”
In the report – commissioned by the Scottish Government early last year – curriculum experts had “really put their finger” on issues affecting the development of CfE, on which education in Scotland is based for children and young people aged from three to 18.
The OECD highlights what was described to it as a ‘clash between 19th century assessment and 21st century curriculum’ and advises consideration of more continuous classroom assessment for senior pupils.
Prof Priestley said detail of proposed reform of senior phase education, from S4 to S6, will be fleshed out in a further report to be published in August.
But he said: “It seems to me as if the current over emphasis on examinations will be replaced by a greater emphasis on continuous course-based assessment.
“That doesn’t mean exams are going to go necessarily. Examinations are simply a method of assessment, they’re not they gold standard, they are one way of assessing student progress.
It seems to me as if the current over emphasis on examinations will be replaced by a greater emphasis on continuous course-based assessment.”
“So there are other ways of doing that and the report talks about portfolio assessment, for example. I think we are going to see a move towards that, certainly that would be my prediction.”
That doesn’t mean exams are going to go necessarily.”
Reform of senior qualifications is, he said, “really crucial” and would shift focus from simply passing exams to gaining broader knowledge of subjects.
“This has been seen by the OECD as very much out of alignment with the curriculum.
“Certainly, if you talk to any teachers what you will see is a system in secondary schools which is run by the demands of the qualifications, which has really impeded the development of a broad general education in years S1 to S3.
…very narrow, very formulaic teaching approaches… geared towards passing exams…”
“It also means very narrow, very formulaic teaching approaches which are geared towards passing exams rather than developing the broad knowledge and understanding that people need of a subject.”
Following the review’s publication on Monday, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced the SQA – highly criticised over last year’s qualifications fiasco and this year’s alternative certification model – would be replaced.
The OECD also suggests curriculum work currently undertaken by Education Scotland might best sit with a new curriculum and assessment body to replace the SQA, and Ms Somerville said all 12 recommendations made would be accepted.