The case for reform of Scotland’s approach to, and support for, education and skills is clear. The Scottish Government is working with partners to deliver system-wide change to ensure we improve education outcomes in Scotland. The establishment of a new qualifications body and the introduction of a new approach to inspection are key to enabling this system-wide change. The proposals within this paper lay the foundations for this. We are also continuing to work on a suite of reform which will further support and build on the proposals being considered here.
The following sections provide the context for these proposals.
In 2020, Scottish Ministers commissioned a review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to help better understand how the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is being designed and implemented in schools in Scotland, and to identify areas for improvement. The report of June 2021 recognised that Scotland's CfE was among the pioneers of 21st century learning and offers a vision and philosophy of education widely supported and worth pursuing. Amongst other conclusions the report highlighted that:
- CfE is an “inspiring and widely supported philosophy of education” that is “equated with good curriculum practice internationally”.
- There is wide support for CfE among stakeholders due to significant engagement during implementation, however the OECD identified a gap between stakeholder involvement and their ability to effect improvement to the implementation of CfE. This gap can be resolved through a structure which sets out clear responsibilities and enables better shared ownership of CfE.
- Better alignment is needed between CfE and the wider assessment system, along with curriculum and system evaluation (this represents critical grounding for our approach to reform).
- The policy environment around CfE required greater coherence, including through alignment of CfE and assessment system objectives and rationalising the number of policy initiatives and institutional layers.
- A more structured and long-term approach to implementation of CfE should be adopted.
The Scottish Government accepted all twelve of the OECD’s recommendations in full and announced the intention to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), and reform Education Scotland including removing the inspection function from the agency.
The Muir Report
The following recommendations from the Muir report are discussed within this consultation and your views on the proposed way forward are sought.
A new qualifications body
- A new qualifications body should be established. This new body should be an executive Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB).
- It should take on board SQA’s current awarding functions, chiefly the responsibility for the design and delivering of qualifications, the operation and certification of examinations, and the awarding of certificates.
- Income-generating contract services currently provided by SQA for organisations, governments and businesses, should be included in the remit of the new NDPB. SQA’s current international work should also be part of the NDPB’s remit.
- The governance structure of the proposed qualifications body should be revised to include more representation from, and accountability to all learners, teachers, practitioners and the stakeholders with whom it engages.
- A new Inspectorate body should be established with its independence enshrined in legislation. Its governance should reflect this independence, with the body funded by the Scottish Parliament, staffed by civil servants and inspectors, the latter of which are appointed with the approval of His Majesty via the Privy Council.
- Critical roles of the independent Inspectorate will be to support improvement, evaluate major changes in the education system and report annually and over longer periods, on the performance of Scottish education.
Professor Kenneth Muir of the University of the West of Scotland was appointed in June 2021 to provide advice to the Scottish Government on the replacement of the SQA and reform of Education Scotland. This included separating out the Inspectorate from Education Scotland. Professor Muir engaged extensively across the education sector and carried out a public consultation with responses from a broad range of practitioners and stakeholders before publishing his report, ‘Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education’ in March 2022. The report recommended the establishment of a revised national infrastructure to simplify the education landscape and to ensure that all teachers and practitioners have greater clarity on the roles and functions of the national bodies.
The Scottish Government’s response to the Muir Report accepted the recommendations in respect of the qualifications body in full and accepted in principle the recommendation to establish a new inspectorate that will be underpinned by legislation. However, we indicated that further consideration and consultation with stakeholders would be needed on how best to align education inspection with the wider inspection system, such as with early learning and childcare sectors, and the appropriate governance and reporting arrangements. We also highlighted that further consideration was required as to the location of accreditation and regulation which currently sits within the SQA, noting that Professor Muir recommended that it should be moved to the new education agency. Further assessment was undertaken supported by specific engagement with stakeholders on the latter. The Government announced in December 2022 that regulation and accreditation would form part of the new qualifications body.
The Government established a programme of education and skills reform with an initial focus on the new national bodies which would replace the SQA and Education Scotland. One of the primary ambitions is to strengthen the system by ensuring there is greater clarity on the individual roles and responsibilities of the national bodies, as well as the relationship between them and with the wider education and skills system. A considerable amount of work has been undertaken with stakeholders to explore the options to address the themes arising from the recommendations in the Muir Report.
Two further reports were also commissioned by Ministers. In August 2022, James Withers was appointed to lead a review of the skills delivery landscape, and in October 2022 Professor Louise Hayward was appointed to carry out a review of Qualifications and Assessments in Scotland. These reported in June 2023. Further engagement on the recommendations in these reports will take place. Also in June 2023, the Scottish Government published its ‘Purpose and Principles Initial Priorities’ which includes actions needed in response to key recommendations set out in the report by Withers. A National Discussion on Education was also undertaken, facilitated by Professors Alma Harris and Carol Campbell, generating over 5,000 submissions.
The case for change
There is much that we should be proud of across Scottish education and skills, and the learning, teaching and support that goes on every day in settings throughout the country.
Like so much else, our education system was tested to its limits during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts and pressures of that period are still being felt. The current fiscal situation across the UK has put extreme pressure on public finances and the effects of this will continue to be felt for some time.
These challenging times mean we must look again at how we deliver our public services and, in the context of education and skills, how we deliver a system that consistently delivers the best outcomes for pupils and students for those we rely on to deliver excellent educational standards. Recent years have been challenging but they have also seen innovation, new practice, and enhanced collaboration across all parts of the system. We must take the opportunity to build on this.
The education and skills reform being taken forward by the Scottish Government aims to reshape the ways in which we support improvement in the quality of teaching and learning and achieve improved outcomes and experiences for pupils and students in every setting.
Feedback from across the system shows that our national education organisations are not always close enough to pupils and students. Reform provides an opportunity to increase trust and confidence in these organisations from practitioners, parents and carers and other stakeholders. There is a clear desire to simplify policies and institutions for clarity and coherence.
The establishment of a new qualifications body and delivering a new approach to inspection are important steps in changing the system for the better, while building on all that is good in Scottish education and skills.
Purpose of this consultation
The purpose of this consultation is to seek views on:
- the proposals to replace the SQA and
- approaches to maximise the role inspection plays in providing assurance and supporting teachers and other practitioners to improve education in Scotland, including through legislation.
The feedback from this consultation will help inform the development of the Bill that will be introduced later this Parliamentary year.
The overarching policy objective of establishing a new qualifications body is to ensure that qualifications consistently meet the needs and expectations of their users, the education system, economy, industry and other providers who use and recognise qualifications and awards. A key priority for the new body is that it will involve pupils and students, teachers and practitioners, and wider stakeholders in its decision making. It will be accountable to and transparent with these stakeholders through robust governance and other arrangements.
As the new body takes shape we will encourage and promote an organisational culture that puts those who rely on its services at its centre. Close collaborative working with the education and skills system in designing the new body will ensure the organisation can deliver on expectations and add value to the existing system from the outset.
This consultation paper sets out proposals for ensuring a robust governance structure and clear responsibilities are embedded in the new qualifications body. It is proposed that the body will have two distinct and separate responsibilities to achieve its overarching objectives: to develop and award qualifications; and to accredit qualifications in Scotland.
The consultation paper then sets out the proposals for taking forward a new approach to inspection. The intention is to strengthen the role inspection plays to ensure it secures accountability, provides assurance and drives improvement. There are a range of ways in which this could be achieved and this is set out in the chapter. Your responses to this consultation will help inform decisions as to the most effective approach for reforming education inspection, including the role that new legislation could play in contributing to these objectives.
In summary, the intention is to deliver bodies that are fit for the future and able to respond to the evolving education and skills landscape. The development of these bodies will reflect the potential scale of change ahead, should the recommendations of Professor Hayward on Qualifications and Assessment and James Withers on the Skills Delivery Landscape be taken forward, as well as enabling implementation of Scottish Government’s Purpose and Principles for Post-School Education, Research and Skills, and the initial priorities.
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