Education Bill: consultation analysis

The independent analysis by Wellside of responses to the consultation on the Education (Scotland) Bill, commissioned by the Scottish Government.

Executive Summary


As part of the ongoing programme of education reforms, the Scottish Government conducted a public and stakeholder consultation to inform the development of a draft Education Bill. The Bill aims to set the legislative framework to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and remove the inspection function from Education Scotland, thus creating two new organisations. Ahead of its finalisation, the consultation sought stakeholder views on provisions for the Bill and an independent analysis of feedback was commissioned.

In total, 386 substantive consultation responses were received and were included within the analysis. This consisted of 234 individuals and 152 responses submitted on behalf of organisations. However, a higher number of people contributed overall as several organisations had conducted wider consultation to develop their response. In addition, nine online consultation events were held, which were attended by just under 1,000 people.

Establishment of a New Qualifications Body

In relation to the creation of a new qualifications body (NQB), the consultation sought feedback on:

  • changes to how qualifications are developed and delivered to improve outcomes for learners;
  • proposals to better represent the teaching profession, pupils and students within the NQB through individuals on the Board with current practical experience, respective committees bringing together a diverse range of perspectives to influence the NQB's decision-making process, and specific user "Charters";
  • proposals regarding the accreditation function and how this would be separated from the awarding function; and
  • proposals to establish a National Forum, to work closely and collaboratively with the NQB, and to provide clear and timely communication.

The Development and Delivery of Qualifications

A wide range of factors were discussed by respondents in relation to the development and delivery of qualifications. This included:

  • the need to increase emphasis, recognition and value placed on different types of qualifications, awards and range of skills, and to deliver parity of esteem (and access) between different pathways and qualifications;
  • providing access to a wide and varied curriculum and a range of learner paths and qualification types for all learners;
  • moving away from “teaching to the test”, “rote learning” and “memory testing”;
  • adopting collaborative approaches to developing and updating qualifications, to involve a wide range of stakeholders;
  • ensuring widespread communication and awareness raising of different types of qualifications;
  • adopting a holistic approach to qualifications (and education reform more generally) by considering this alongside curriculum design and pedagogy, as well as further/higher education, and workplace needs;
  • support for the recommendations set out in the Hayward Report, and the use of the Scottish Diploma of Achievement (SDA); and
  • support for the use of Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) levels to develop a linked and cohesive qualification framework.

The delivery of qualifications across the UK and internationally was discussed less often - several felt this function should continue, while a few sought additional information on the current scope of this activity or were concerned this might undermine the public service side of the role.

A few respondents were also concerned about the implications for other existing awarding bodies given the proposed scope of the NQB’s functions.

The Board, Committees and Charters

There was general support for involving both teaching professionals and pupils and students within the governance structures of the NQB. There was however some minority resistance to involving children and young people directly within governance structures.

It was argued, however, that the proposal to include at least one teaching professional from the school sector and one from the college sector on the Board was insufficient and tokenistic. It was felt that far higher representation of teaching professionals would be needed, and that selected individuals should have current or recent classroom experience. Similarly, it was noted that the proposals were unclear regarding whether pupils and students would be involved directly or if professional representative bodies would be used - although it was felt important that pupils and students be given the responsibility.

Within the Board and teacher and pupil and student Committees, it was also stressed that wide representation would be needed, to take account of all ages, stages, sectors, demographic and socio-economic backgrounds, geography, subject areas, and specialist/minority areas, such as Gaelic Medium Education (GME) providers, and those with or representing neurodivergent pupils and students, those with disabilities, etc. In addition, it was felt that both teaching professionals and pupils and students allocated to these functions would need to be rotated, and that they would need to be supported to contribute. For teaching professionals this included a range of suggestions around secondments to the NQB, allocated and protected time, and additional resources being made available to ensure engagement. Capacity building, training, mentoring, support and guidance were perceived to be required to facilitate the participation of pupils and students (and children and young people in particular).

It was also stressed that any engagement with teaching professionals and pupils and students needed to be meaningful and impactful, and that their views must be taken into account in any decision making process. It was felt that the proposals lacked detail on how much influence these stakeholders would have, both within the Board and within the NQB more generally, and how much influence the Committees would have. Concerns were expressed that these proposals could end up simply ‘paying lip-service’ to their views.

The creation of a Charter for teaching professionals was also broadly welcomed, although views about a Charter for pupils and students were more mixed.

The Accreditation Function

There were largely mixed views around whether the NQB should be responsible for both awarding and accrediting qualifications. Some felt that making the new body responsible for setting standards and accreditation was sensible, provided there are clear responsibilities and opportunities to ensure connections between the two duties. Others, however, disagreed that the new body should be responsible for both aspects, and felt that these functions needed to be separated across two separate bodies (as had been recommended in the Muir Report) to avoid conflicts of interest and maintain independence from one another.

National Forum, Collaborative Working and Communications

Most respondents appeared to be in favour of a strong and effective collaborative, partnership and co-working approach. It was also felt that this approach needed to extend to a wide range of stakeholders encompassing the full education spectrum as well as destination sectors (e.g. employers, trade bodies, further and higher education), and representative and specialist bodies.

While most respondents did not comment specifically on the use of a National Forum, they did support the use of a variety of methods to ensure a wide range of views were incorporated and joint working achieved. Some did, however, indicate that the creation of a National Forum was a good idea, and felt this would provide an additional opportunity for inputting views, facilitate the provision of independent advice, and provide an additional layer of accountability. Again, it was felt that membership needed to be rotated to ensure wide representation and that views remained fresh and relevant.

In terms of communication, most comments focused on the need for the NQB to listen to stakeholders, and to take on board and act upon their views, rather than discussing how the NQB should communicate. Those who did discuss outgoing communications suggested transparent communication was vital, and recommended the use of ‘You Said, We Did’ type reports to provide accountability. Reporting also needed to be widely disseminated and publicly available.

Again, however, it was stressed that any collaboration needed to be meaningful and impactful, and concerns were raised about the potential for the NQB to become slow to react, overly complicated and bureaucratic.

Reform of Education Inspection

Purposes of Inspection

The consultation paper set out three core purposes of inspection:

  • to provide public accountability and assurance on the quality of education to learners, their parents/carers and the Scottish Parliament;
  • to support education providers, including schools, teachers and other practitioners to improve, through capacity building and sharing effective practice; and
  • to share evidence about education and training to support services to improve and inform the development of education policy.

There was clear agreement with the purposes set out, with respondents stressing that ‘support’ should be the main purpose of inspection. The emphasis on supporting improvement through the sharing of evidence and good practice was also very much welcomed and was seen as something which could support consistency across the system as well as facilitating continued professional development for education staff.

While most respondents agreed with the purpose of accountability and assurance, there were feelings that this was of lesser priority.

Several respondents indicated a desire to see a specific purpose linked to safeguarding and protection, and this was perhaps the main ‘additional’ purpose that was highlighted. Other comments on the purposes included that they could be more inclusive of a wider range of partners and that, as currently specified, they were perhaps vague in relation to specific sectors (including community learning, the tertiary sector and modern apprenticeships).

Range of Establishments and Services

The consultation paper set out a list of establishments and services to be included in the scope of inspections and, again, there was widespread support for the inclusion of those specified. While there was broad agreement that all places where children and young people learn should be inspected by the same body to ensure consistency, comments were also made that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to inspection would not be appropriate. It was felt that inspection processes must always be context specific.

Concerns raised by respondents included that the current inspection arrangements for the early learning and childcare (ELC) sector needed to be revised, with several respondents highlighting issues with the current involvement of both the Care Inspectorate and HMIe in ELC inspection. Arguments were provided that a single body should be established for the inspection of ELC to avoid duplication, although respondents did not always offer a preference for how this should be achieved. Similarly, several respondents stressed the need to avoid duplication of inspection/quality assurance arrangements in the tertiary sector, and for Initial Teacher Education. The main argument given by those who did not support the inspection of publicly funded colleges by HMIe was that alternative models were already in place that were or would be more suitable.

Few respondents commented specifically on the role of the Inspectorate of Education in the inspection of modern apprenticeships. Among those who did, discussions were largely focused on what the purpose of such inspections should be and how they should be carried out, rather than outlining their views on the general principle of whether the new inspectorate should have a role in the sector or not.

Maximising the Impact of Education Inspection

The consultation document set out three priorities to improve the operation and impact of inspection in the education system, these being to:

  • ensure that children, young people, adult learners, parents/carers, teachers and other practitioners, as well as the public, have confidence in the work of the inspectorate of education;
  • ensure the involvement of teachers and other practitioners, children, pupils and students, parents/carers, local authorities and providers in inspections; and
  • ensure inspection evidence is being fully utilised to: (a) provide assurance and public accountability; (b) drive improvement and build capacity; and (c) inform practice and policy.

Again, there was support for the priorities set out among the majority of respondents with considerable support for ensuring the involvement of teachers and other practitioners, learners, parents/carers, local authorities and providers in inspections. This commitment was seen as particularly important in securing confidence in the work of the inspectorate.

Addressing the Priority Issues

In taking forward the set priorities, there was clear (although not unanimous) support for removing the inspection function from Education Scotland to create a distinct and separate executive agency without requiring new legislation (with the inspectorate remaining directly accountable to Scottish Ministers). Having such an independent body, guided by stakeholder voice and current emerging research, was seen as a way of maintaining the autonomy of the inspection process while also addressing historical concerns around impartiality. While this option was seen as radical, it was also seen as necessary to help avoid potential conflicts of interest between development, improvement and evaluation functions, as was perceived to be characteristic of the current system. The main arguments against this proposal were that it would not achieve the ‘independence’ from government that stakeholders wanted to see and that having another organisation involved in education and scrutiny may add to existing bureaucracy. Some concern was also expressed that separating out inspection and support agencies may result in disjointed or divergent thinking.

There was support for taking forward legislation to establish the role of ‘HM Chief Inspector of Education for Scotland’ in law as an independent office-holder with the Inspector having primary responsibility for setting the schedule, frequency and focus for inspections. The main reason given in support was that this would make accountability and independence more obvious and more stringent which, in turn, could maximise public and professional confidence in the inspection process. Among those who disagreed with this proposal, concerns were mainly linked to how a single office holder might be regulated or held to account. There were also concerns that any legislative changes may add another level of complexity to the existing system and act as a barrier to progress.

It should be noted that several respondents commented on what they perceived to be the strengths and weaknesses of options presented (as well as positing alternatives) rather than expressing a clear preference for either approach.

Regardless of the model adopted, there was strong support for involving teachers and other practitioners, learners, parents/carers, local authorities and providers in inspections and governance arrangements, and for ensuring that stakeholder voices were taken on board. Involvement of stakeholders was also seen as the best way to guarantee impartiality and responsiveness of inspections and to instil stakeholder trust in the inspection process.

Views as to whether an Advisory Council should be legislated for to facilitate stakeholder involvement were less conclusive, with some seeing this as making the system more robust and others viewing it as overly bureaucratic.

Similarly, while many indicated support for formal reporting structures to be in place in order to support the third priority area, including support for the use of both annual and regular reports to monitor the inspectorate’s work and to provide an overall view on performance across the Scottish education system, far fewer indicated any preference around the use of legislation in this regard.

Respondents were in agreement, however, with the need for inspection evidence to be shared widely. In particular, it was felt that the sharing of good practice could help to inform practice across all educational establishments and not just those being inspected.

Cross-Cutting Themes

A range of other issues, common to both new bodies were also discussed. It was suggested that both new bodies should:

  • adopt a collegiate, collaborative and supportive approach, both in their governance arrangements and general working practices;
  • develop and facilitate close and ongoing collaborative links with and between a wide range of stakeholders;
  • ensure that stakeholder engagement/involvement was representative, meaningful and not tokenistic, with children and young people being supported to participate fully;
  • ensure that stakeholder views are listened to and taken on board on an ongoing basis to affect real change - several organisational respondents offered to remain proactively involved in the onward shaping of legislation, policy or practices;
  • ensure future developments are inclusive and reflective of the diverse range of learner needs (for qualifications) and local context (for inspections); and
  • provide clear and transparent feedback to all stakeholders.

A large volume of comments provided related to more operational and practical elements of the new bodies and of assessment and inspection, as well as training requirements and sector specific issues. Respondents also highlighted the need for/concern around the availability of financial support and appropriate resourcing, both for the creation of any new bodies and the wider education system to engage with and implement changes.

A few other common issues were also raised across the consultation. It was felt that there was a lack of detail included in the consultation document regarding how the new bodies would function, what the relationships between the new bodies and other existing organisations would be, how new functions would overlap with/be different from existing functions, and how many of the proposals would operate in practice. More detail was also sought on the advantages and disadvantages of the different proposals/approaches set out in the consultation document.

There was also a general sense among a few respondents that the proposals did not offer meaningful change in the application of qualifications and inspections - rather there was a sense of rebranding.

Finally, it was felt that the proposed changes to the legislative status and governance arrangements alone would not be sufficient to address the key issues related to qualifications and inspections (or the more general reforms needed across education). It was noted that this would require a significant culture change across the sector.


Overall, there was general support for most of the proposals set out in the consultation document, albeit with several caveats and areas of concern which could be addressed going forward.

The only areas where levels of support were more mixed included the proposals to retain both awarding and accreditation functions within the remit of the NQB (rather than having separate bodies responsible for these), the inclusion of specific settings within the remit of the new inspectorate due to the risk of duplication, and whether legislation was required/preferred or not when creating the new inspection body.



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