School and college teacher recommendations: consultation analysis

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills consulted with the school and college teaching profession to seek their views on the recommendations from the National Discussion on Education and the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment. This report sets out the findings.

Which recommendations in the final report do you believe are the most important?

Respondents were asked to select which recommendations from the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment are the most important. Respondents were allowed to select as many recommendations as they wanted. The recommendations are ranked from most to least important, according to the responses, in Table 1.

Table 1 . Which recommendations in the final report do you believe are the most important?
Recommendations Response percent Response total
Workforce and Professional Learning (An expanded programme of professional learning should be developed to support the changes to qualifications and assessment) 68.1% 1324
Modularised courses 43.3% 843
Digital profiles and digital assessment methods 40.1% 780
Parity of esteem (Qualifications at the same level in Scotland, should use the SCQF Level followed by the name of the qualification) 32.6% 635
Assessment (Reduce the number of external examinations in the Senior Phase; increase the breadth of assessment methods including digital assessment methods, and remove external assessment up to SCQF level 5.) 31.4% 610
Programmes of Learning (Should remain an important aspect of the Senior Phase and will be a prerequisite for the award of the Diploma. There should be a reduction in external assessment across the Senior Phase.) 28.3% 551
Adopt the Scottish Diploma of Achievement 23.5% 458
Personal Pathway (Include the Personal Pathway element as a prerequisite for the award of the Diploma. It is an entitlement and must be available to all learners.) 23.5% 455
National Monitoring and Accountability systems (Require national monitoring and accountability systems to gather information on the breadth of achievements recognised within the Scottish Diploma of Achievement) 23.3% 454
Project Learning (Include the Project Learning element as a prerequisite for the award of the Diploma. It is an entitlement and must be available to all learners.) 16.8% 326

Below, further detail is provided on the reasons why respondents found the recommendations important.

Workforce and Professional Learning

Recommendation: An expanded programme of professional learning should be developed to support the changes to qualifications and assessment. Time should be made available for staff in Education to access professional learning, to collaborate and to engage with the changes being proposed. Build a national strategy for standards.

68% of responses said that workforce and professional learning was one of the most important recommendations. Primarily they chose this recommendation because of the extent of the proposals. They said that the proposals will substantially change the Scottish education system and that teachers will need to undertake an extensive programme of professional learning and development.

There were concerns, however, that teachers will not be given sufficient time to do so. Some respondents referred to the introduction of previous reforms – for example, Higher Still in 1999 and Curriculum for Excellence in 2010 – where it was felt that learning and development was insufficient. They, thus, stressed that time for professional learning and development is paramount.

“This is the only recommendation that I support as it will be impossible to implement such a fundamental change without significant, specific and detailed CLPL [Career Long Professional Learning] for all teachers and school leaders.” – High school teacher

“When CfE was brought in, there was not enough detail about content, expectations, standards, assessments and so on. Years were spent writing courses then changing courses and assessments. Teachers need time before a new curriculum/assessment is introduced.” – High school teacher

Modularised Courses

Recommendation: Programmes of Learning should be organised into modules to allow learners maximum flexibility to build credit as they progress through courses. SCQF Level 6 Higher courses should be progressive allowing learners to build credits over two years.

43% of responses said that modularised courses was one of the most important recommendations. Respondents liked the flexible nature of modularised courses which would allow for greater personalisation to meet the individual needs of pupils and allow pupils to work towards qualifications at a pace that works for them. They thought that this would be particularly beneficial for pupils who struggle with traditional examinations or with certain aspects of subject courses, and pupils who face barriers to learning such as ASN or attendance.

“Modularised courses would allow pupils to build up an credits across a breadth of areas. This means that if pupils can't achieve in every aspect of a subject, they still gain credit for the bits they can. When added together they may be equivalent to qualification so pupils who just fall short in all subjects, but do well in certain aspects of all subjects, can still walk away with something. The focus being on what they can do rather than what they can't.” – High school teachers (group response)

“Modularised courses allows for flexibility and pacing which could better meet individual needs and attainment can be achieved when the learner is ready to demonstrate the acquisition of this knowledge or skills.” – College Supported Learning Team (group response)

Respondents believed that a particular strength of modularised courses is the move away from high stake final examinations. They felt it supports the notion of ongoing assessment and gives a more accurate picture of a pupil’s overall skills and achievement, which they said cannot be captured in a single exam. Respondents noted that this will be beneficial for the wellbeing of pupils, reducing the stress related to traditional examinations.

“Modularised courses: encourages more continual learner engagement rather than last minute "cramming"; avoids learner failure because of nerves/one bad day” – Primary school teacher

“Modularised courses as this allows learners to build up their result over time rather than the focus being on one exam at one moment in time. Progressive learning over time leads to better retention of knowledge.” – Primary school teachers (group response)

Respondents also suggested that modularised courses would support learner motivation as pupils will have more opportunities to demonstrate achievement, identify their strengths, and study the aspects of courses at which they are strongest.

Digital profiles and assessment methods

Recommendation: All learners should have a digital profile to allow them to record achievements in Programmes of Learning, Project Learning and Personal Pathway. The profile will be owned by the learner. Digital technologies should be used to expand assessment methods.

43% of responses said that digital profiles and assessment methods was one of the most important recommendations. Generally, respondents thought that digital profiles were a good idea as they would allow pupils to easily record all their achievements in one place and ensure that achievements were not forgotten.

Respondents said that digital profiles will be especially beneficial for school leavers. They felt that they can be used to help pupils with applications for Further and Higher Education and showcase their skills and achievements to employers, particularly if the profiles are sharable.

“Having a digital profile is important for learners because it can help showcase their skills, achievements, and educational background to potential employers, educational institutions, and peers. It allows for easy access to information about one's capabilities and accomplishments, facilitating networking and collaboration. Additionally, in today's digital age, having a well-maintained digital presence can enhance visibility and credibility, aiding in personal and professional growth.” – Primary school teacher

Respondents had concerns, however, about the feasibility of rolling out digital profiles. They said that a national system for digital profiles would need to be developed so that records were standardised across the country. What is more, they stressed that schools do not currently have the digital technology and infrastructure that is needed to allow fair and equitable delivery of, and access to, digital profiles.

“To allow the Digital Profile to be rolled out immediately, time and money must be invested in both software and hardware within each school. Current systems are not coping with the day-to-day teaching and learning at the moment, so in order to ensure that all learners start off on a level playing field throughout Scotland, money must be invested in systems that can match the expectations of the Digital Profiles.” – High school teacher

Some respondents also noted their support for digital methods of assessment. It was felt that this would allow for faster evaluation of progress and reduce teacher workload. Many felt that digital assessment is a particular important priority in an increasingly digitised world. Again, however, it was stressed that digital methods of assessment cannot be rolled out until there has been significant investment in digital infrastructure.

“…using more digital assessments would only be possible if more funding was provided so that every pupil has access to digital resources (e.g. laptops or tablets). As highlighted by Covid, there was an inequality in online teaching as many pupils did not have the resources or family environment to allow them to learn from home or an online environment.” – High school teacher

Parity of esteem

Recommendation: Enhance parity of esteem between types of qualifications by recognising as equal all qualifications at the same SCQF level with the same credit points. Qualifications at the same level in Scotland, should use the SCQF Level followed by the name of the qualification in promotional literature and in recording of results for example, Chemistry - SCQF level 6 – Higher.

32% of responses said that parity of esteem between different types of qualifications was one of the most important recommendations. These respondents noted that, under the current qualifications system, academic and vocational courses are not considered equal.

Respondents wanted to see greater acknowledgement of alternative pathways, in which vocational qualifications are viewed as legitimate and viable alternatives to academic qualifications. Respondents highlighted the need for a cultural shift to eliminate biases against certain qualifications. Concerns were raised, for example, about the negative perception of some qualifications (such as National 4) and the way in which academic attainment (particularly in numeracy and literacy) is valued more highly than attainment in vocational subjects.

“Parity of esteem has long been needed, particularly surrounding the negative perception of National 4.” – High school teacher

“For decades the assumption has been that university is just better. It isn't…vocational apprenticeships…need to be properly valued and seen as a viable and legitimate pathway. This needs a change in attitude at a society level. Putting Higher in front of all SCQF level 6 qualifications would be a good start.” – High school teacher

They felt that standardising and making qualification levels clearer would contribute to transparency and fairness across different subjects and pathways. Consistent and accessible language was considered important in describing qualifications to provide clarity for pupils, parents, employers, and society in general. Respondents also noted that vocational qualifications need rigourous assessment to ensure that they are perceived to be as equally challenging as traditional academic courses.

Support from universities, colleges, and employers was identified as a key factor in achieving parity of esteem. Respondents emphasised the importance of buy-in from these institutions if the recommendation is to be successfully implemented.

“True parity of esteem where employers, colleges and universities recognise the different pathways available to young people are integral to young people having appropriate recognition for their time at school. This allows them to move into appropriate positive destinations and does not hold them back because they took a slightly different route to a qualification.” – High school teachers (group response)


Recommendations: Reduce the number of external examinations in the Senior Phase; increase the breadth of assessment methods including digital assessment methods, and remove external assessment up to SCQF level 5.

31% of responses said that the proposed changes to assessment were amongst the most important recommendations. These respondents advocated for a shift in the traditional assessment model - moving away from high-stakes examinations and embracing a more inclusive, flexible, and digitally integrated approach that prioritises the wellbeing and diverse needs of students.

Respondents supported a reduction in the number of external examinations. The stress and pressure associated with high-stakes examinations was highlighted as detrimental to the mental wellbeing of students. They argued that there should be a greater focus on skills development and preparing students for life after school, rather than on assessing rote memory.

“The current assessment system is too exam focused - our young people in Scotland are incredibly diverse and the opportunities for them to achieve should also be diverse. The mental health of our young people should be our top priority and external high stakes exams only exacerbate the stress on our young people.” – Primary school teacher

“Reducing the number of assessments eases pressure on students and staff and enables greater space and time to be given to different sorts of learning and activity. It is clear that the continued emphasis on assessment and performance has a detrimental effect in terms of mental wellbeing and in terms of detracting from the idea that learning can be beneficial in and of itself.” – University academics (group response)

Respondents advocated for a broader range of assessment methods that would recognise the diverse strengths, learning styles, and needs of students and allow them to showcase their capabilities in various ways. This included support for digital assessments, project-based assessments, making formal examinations optional, and allowing learners to build qualifications over time via modular courses.

Respondents also called for continuous assessment throughout the year which would allow for a more comprehensive demonstration of a student's learning and attainment over time.

“Exams are not a fair reflection of someone's abilities; pupils should get more time and have opportunities to develop their skills and talents over an extended period of time.” – High school teacher

“I feel final grades based on exams alone are outdated and don’t meet GIRFEC [Getting It Right for Every Child]- a combination of exams (if appropriate) and portfolio work is a better approach and allows pupils to showcase their learning continually than in one final piece.” – Primary school teacher

Digital assessments were seen as a promising avenue for assessing students in a fair, consistent, and efficient way and preparing students for increasingly digital workplaces and an ever more digital society.

Programmes of learning

Recommendation: Programmes of learning should remain an important aspect of the Senior Phase and will be a prerequisite for the award of the Diploma. There should be a reduction in external assessment across the Senior Phase.

28% of responses said that ensuring programmes of learning remained an important aspect of the Senior phase, with a reduction of external assessment, was one of the most important recommendations.

There was unanimous agreement on the importance of subject-specific learning. Respondents emphasised the fundamental importance of maintaining subject knowledge and skills. There were concerns that the SDA will not be valued if Project Learning and the Personal Pathway are given equal standing to programmes of learning and that students’ knowledge, skills and readiness for further and higher education would be greatly limited. Respondents, thus, stressed that subject-specific courses should remain the greatest focus of the Scottish curriculum.

“Subject knowledge is still fundamental and should be kept, any diploma issued that doesn't cover this will not be valued by anyone in the system.” – High school teacher

“This should still be the majority of the teaching and learning, otherwise there won't be enough time to get through much meaningful curriculum for each subject. In turn the value of the qualifications will be dumbed down and pupils won't be ready for the level of learning and teaching at Uni/college level.” – High school teacher

Concerns were expressed by some respondents, about the proposed reduction in external assessments across the Senior Phase. While they agreed with the recommendation on "programmes of learning," they argued that external examinations motivate students, provide external recognition of attainment, and ensure objectivity in assessments. Concerns were also raised regarding the potential impact on teacher workload if the proposed reduction in external assessments was to go ahead. Questions about internal assessment conditions and national quality assurance mechanisms were also raised.

“I believe that programmes of learning are the most important aspect - but I do not agree that external exams should be reduced. I think that this will lead to a lack of motivation for learning at N5 level (as it has currently for N3/4 with no external recognition of success).“ – Teacher (school type not specified)

Adopt the Scottish Diploma of Achievement

Recommendation: Adopt the Scottish Diploma of Achievement as the new approach to qualifications and assessment. The SDA (the Diploma) should contain three elements: Programmes of Learning, Project Learning and the Personal Pathway.

24% of responses said that adopting the Scottish Diploma of Agreement was one of the most important recommendations. These respondents felt hopeful and excited about the potential positive impact of the SDA on education, particularly in recognising and rewarding diverse skills and achievements beyond traditional examinations.

The proposed SDA, as an alternative to traditional examinations, is well-received by these respondents. Many believed that it offers a more holistic approach, allowing for a broader recognition of skills, personalisation, and choice in the learner's journey. The diploma was seen as a way to address the needs of students who may not perform well in examinations or who struggle with the standard curriculum. The SDA was viewed as a means to create a well-rounded achievement that goes beyond academic performance.

“Almost all staff were in agreement with the Scottish Diploma of Achievement and what it was to represent; there was an acknowledgement that not all students were academic and not all enjoyed academic learning and some were not interested in sitting exams or any form of standardised assessments. But this did not mean that they did not have their own specific skills set - all staff agreed that all children definitely had lots to contribute. Their skills, in the current system, often go unnoticed or unrecognised. This would change with the proposals in the SDA.” – Teachers (group response, school type not specified)

Several respondents highlighted the importance of a clear plan for implementation and greater detail on how the diploma would work in practice. Respondents stressed that the adoption of the SDA would require careful planning and consideration as a rushed implementation could disadvantage young people. Some respondents emphasised the need for sufficient learning and development time for teachers to ensure a successful rollout.

SDA has the capacity to help fix many of the problems in education, but only if it is properly implemented.” – High school teacher

Personal Pathway

Recommendation: Include the Personal Pathway element as a prerequisite for the award of the Diploma. It is an entitlement and must be available to all learners.

24% of responses said that introducing the Personal Pathway was one of the most important recommendations. The Personal Pathway was seen as a way to provide greater recognition for wider achievements, including work experience, volunteering, extra-curricular activities and community participation. It was considered a step towards a more flexible and tailored approach, accommodating the diverse needs and abilities of learners.

“I believe that personal pathways…allows for a more tailored approach which celebrates the abilities of all learners and allows a broader focus on the skills that are more valued in the workplace.” – Primary school teacher

Respondents highlighted a number of benefits of the Personal Pathway, including its potential for improving learner engagement, giving students greater ownership of their learning, and the development of transferable skills. Improving student motivation was also noted as a key benefit, with respondents suggesting that the Personal Pathway could keep learners interested in their education and reduce learner apathy and dropout. Respondents felt that it would encourage learners to take greater responsibility for their progress and, thus, foster a sense of accountability.

“A personal pathway allows for pupil led learning, better ownership and deeper engagement.” – Primary school teacher

Respondents also believed that the Personal Pathway would foster inclusivity, particularly given its recognition of achievements beyond academic attainment. In this sense, the Personal Pathway was seen as a more holistic approach to education.

“It is inclusive, allows pupils to be recognised for their wider achievements that are not purely academic and encourages pupils to see value in wider school and community commitments.” – High school teachers (group response)

Some respondents expressed concerns about the practical implementation of the Personal Pathway. Questions were raised about the standardisation, monitoring and assessment of Personal Pathways and the potential impact on teacher workload. There was also a call for training for staff and careful consideration of the time required for successful implementation.

National monitoring and accountability systems

Recommendation: Require national monitoring and accountability systems to gather information on the breadth of achievements recognised within the Scottish Diploma of Achievement. Insight and the National Improvement Framework (NIF) should be updated to reflect success as envisaged in the SDA.

23% of responses said that requiring national monitoring and accountability systems was one of the most important recommendations. These respondents argued that such a system is necessary, not only to track and evaluate success, but also to build credibility, trust, and consistency in the education system, both nationally and internationally.

Respondents emphasised the need for consistency across the country. They called for a standardised approach to internal assessments, arguing that national monitoring is crucial to ensure equity and fairness for all learners. Respondents said that teachers will need to be aware of, and adhere to, national standards and be given sufficient time for learning and development.

“Ensure there is a national standard that is consistent and upheld through all schools to ensure all learners have the same experiences and outcomes and employers/uni/colleges have faith and trust in the new system.” – High school teachers (group response)

Some respondents expressed concerns about potential inconsistencies in teacher judgment across schools and the risk this poses to the credibility and validity of the SDA. There was a clear consensus that a national monitoring and accountability system would be crucial to counteract the potential challenges associated with reducing external assessments.

“Monitoring and Accountability will be essential if these changes go ahead. The alternative certification model used in recent years demonstrated the wildly different judgements being made across the country when external examinations were not used. It will take multiple years of intensive training to ensure all schools are judging to the same standard and if this is not done then we will be left with a system that is inequitable for learners across the country.” – High school teacher

Project Learning

Recommendation: Include the Project Learning element as a prerequisite for the award of the Diploma. It is an entitlement and must be available to all learners.

17% of responses thought that introducing Project Learning was one of the most important recommendations. These respondents considered Project Learning as a holistic approach to education that would foster a more collaborative and interdisciplinary learning environment. They believed it would support students to develop transferrable meta and employability skills, making them better prepared for further and higher education, and the workplace.

Respondents viewed Project Learning as an opportunity for learners to showcase individual skills that might go unnoticed in conventional educational models. Moreover, Project Learning was seen as a fairer and more inclusive way to track and monitor students' progress, particularly for students who struggle with traditional examinations.

“Project learning will allow pupils to be assessed on skills that can be applied to real life employment opportunities such as communication skills and working with others. It allows those who are not academic to showcase their abilities and talents.” – Primary school teacher

“Project learning is a holistic approach and gives opportunity to develop transferrable skills, essential skills and meta-skills. It naturally blends all of these overlapping skills in a natural way which replicates the use of these skills in real life.” - College Supported Learning Team (group response)

Respondents argued that Project Learning could improve student engagement by aligning learning with real-life situations and allowing learners to pursue their own interests and passions. Several primary school teachers noted that children, at this stage, are particularly highly motivated by project-based and interdisciplinary learning.

“I believe that project learning gives learners more flexibility and leads to motivated learners, driven by their own interests.” – Primary school teacher

Despite supporting the recommendation, respondents raised a number of concerns about Project Learning. This included uncertainties around assessment methods, particularly the difficulty in measuring attainment without traditional grading. Respondents also identified a number of logistical complexities, such as embedding Project Learning into the curriculum, and addressing concerns about staffing, workload, and timetabling. Clearer guidelines and detailed information were seen as essential to navigate these challenges and ensure the successful implementation of Project Learning.



Back to top