Scotland’s exams body is to be scrapped in the wake of a major review of education north of the border.
New Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville had previously said the Government would reform the Scottish Qualifications Authority, but following the publication of a report by the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) on the country’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) she announced instead that the organisation would be replaced.
Ms Somerville added that Education Scotland would no longer be responsible for school inspections, adding that ministers would “look at what further reform” was needed for this organisation.
Opposition politicians welcomed plans to replace the SQA, claiming Monday’s report was a “damning judgement of Scotland’s exams system and the body which oversees it”.
The OECD had insisted that there needed to be “more coherence and alignment” with the principles of the CfE in the senior phase of secondary school.
It commented that for current students aged between 15 and 18 the qualifications “focus the attention on ‘traditional’ exam- and memory-based assessment” with this serving to “limit the wider purpose and scope of CfE”.
The CfE approach was first introduced in Scotland’s schools back in 2011, with the aim being to develop children throughout their period in education – from nursery right through to secondary – so that they emerge as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and can contribute effectively.
The OECD said this system, covering youngsters from the age of three right up to 18 was “innovative for Scotland and visionary for the international community” when it was developed in the early 2000s.
It added: “Almost 20 years later, CfE is still remarkably relevant to Scotland’s aspirations for a high-quality, future-oriented education for all its children and young people.”
But it said the exams set-up “seems to deviate from CfE’s broader curriculum philosophy and aims” noting that pupils in S4 to S6 “reported an emphasis on rote learning and memorisation, which they described as ‘boring’”.
It suggested alternative approaches to more traditional exams could see schools adopt an approach based more on assessing a portfolio of work, or with “more emphasis on flexible, formative and continuous assessment components than is currently the case”.
Ms Somerville said the Scottish Government accepted in full all 12 recommendations made by the OECD in their report.
The Education Secretary stated: “The OECD report is crystal clear – Curriculum for Excellence is the right approach for Scotland.
“In fact, despite all the criticism here at home, the OECD tells us it is viewed internationally as an inspiring example of curriculum practice.
“However, 10 years on from CfE being introduced, it is right and proper that we review how it is being implemented.”
She continued: “We will replace the SQA. We will talk to young people, parents and teachers to build a system that works in line with CfE – exactly as the OECD recommends.
“Responsibility for inspection will no longer sit with Education Scotland and we will look at what further reform of the agency’s functions is required.”
She said: “What comes next is a period of change. But it is change in order to improve, to achieve more and to deliver for Scotland’s pupils. Our commitment is to do exactly that and we will work with everyone and anyone willing to help to make that a reality.”
Tory education spokesman Oliver Mundell claimed the SNP had “created a system lacking structure, vision, accountability, and data”.
He hit out: “This damning OECD report exposes how badly the SNP Government have failed Scotland’s schools.
“It outlines in great detail how Curriculum for Excellence is bogged down in bureaucracy and beset by fundamental issues, especially in the senior phase.”
Labour education spokesman, Michael Marra, said: “Today’s report has made it clear that Scotland’s education system is in urgent need of reform and resources.
“It is welcome that the SQA is to be scrapped and replaced by a new body. It has become increasingly clear that the organisation stood as a barrier to realising the full potential of Curriculum for Excellence.”
Similarly, Scottish Greens education spokesman, Ross Greer, said: “As we already knew, the principles of Curriculum for Excellence are sound, but it is near impossible for teachers to deliver in S4-6, because they are stuck teaching to a century-old assessment system instead.
“It’s a failure of government that the exams system was left largely untouched when the new curriculum was introduced a decade ago. As a result, completely unnecessary barriers have been put in the way of hundreds of thousands of pupils.”
SQA chief executive, Fiona Robertson, said: “While our focus right now is on supporting our young people to get the qualifications they deserve this year, I welcome the OECD findings and today’s announcement of a new specialist agency with responsibility for both curriculum and assessment.
“This is an opportunity for significant change that will meet the future needs of our learners, our society and our economy, and which has the support of all.”
She said the SQA would “make a full and positive contribution to the process that lies ahead” and added that “whatever outcome eventually emerges, it is critical that we all commit to maintaining the high standards that have long been the hallmark of Scotland’s qualifications”.
Ms Robertson added: “In the meantime, we will continue our work to deliver this year’s National Qualifications in exceptional and challenging circumstances.”