It's Our Future - Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment: report

Final report of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland.


Any review of qualifications and assessment that seeks to make a positive difference to the lives of learners has to begin by asking bigger questions. What does it mean to be an educated citizen in Scotland in the mid to late 21st century? What would it mean to be qualified for that? What knowledge, skills and capacities will learners need to thrive? Only then can you begin to think about the kinds of qualifications that will support learners in the next stage of their lives, whether that is in education, employment or in the voluntary sector.

It is a sobering thought that young people entering Early Years just now may still be working at the end of this century. By then the world will be a very different place. We know that; but what is less certain is how quickly the world will change. Recent events have given us an insight however, into just how fast the pace of change may be. The opportunities offered by Artificial Intelligence technologies are almost overwhelming but so are the threats. The impact of Artificial Intelligence is one that learners of the future will live with and the skills they will need to cope must now be part of the future of education and of qualifications. What is certain is that societies will continue to change at pace and Scotland, will need a flexible, agile qualification system to support all learners into what will undoubtedly be a less certain future. The questions we are asking of our qualifications and assessment system are being asked by countries across the world.

The title of this report, It’s Our Future, has its genesis in a statement made by a learner frustrated by feeling that learners had little say in decisions being taken about qualifications that would impact on them and affect their future and that of their friends. In recent years, qualifications and assessment in Scotland have been contentious. Traditionally, Scotland’s qualification system has been highly regarded but there have been increasing concerns about the impact of three years of high stakes assessment on learners in the senior phase. In future, we need to be sure that every learner leaves education with a sense of achievement, linked to a positive future pathway. As a nation committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989), that must be our goal. That is our best hope for a future society that is stable, happy and prosperous for all of us. It is all of our futures.

So, what do learners need for the future? The findings of the Independent Review suggest that learners need opportunities to study in depth subjects or Programmes of Learning. However, they and Scottish society will need more than that. Learners, schools, colleges, employers and universities told us that learners need opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need as they progress beyond school and college. The ability to work together, to use knowledge to tackle problems, to think creatively, to persevere are examples of the skills learners will need in life. In addition, qualifications should provide learners with opportunities to show who they are: what makes each person individual, their interests and wider achievements, the contributions they make to communities or to society more broadly; and how every learner might be supported to make good decisions about what they might do next. These are the achievements recognised in the Scottish Diploma of Achievement.

This is not the Hayward Review, although I have heard it called that; it is the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment carried out by the Independent Review Group. Membership of this Group was diverse, and each member worked closely with an extended Collaborative Community Group. I cannot thank them enough for their dedication and their support throughout the process. My thanks also go to schools and colleges across the country who responded to the three phases of the Review and to those who welcomed us as we visited and shared so many examples of exciting projects and experiences. I also thank the many organisations and individuals who offered their views through the public consultation. My thanks are also due to both Cabinet Secretaries with whom I have worked, the education spokespeople from across the political parties in Scotland and to the members of the Education, Children and Young People and Skills Committee. Most of all I would like to express my grateful thanks to members of the Secretariat who have worked so tirelessly through this major Independent Review. Every person involved has kept learners at the heart of discussions.

Thinking about the future of Qualifications and Assessment had not been an easy task. Twenty years ago, Curriculum for Excellence set out to bring qualifications and assessment into better alignment with the four capacities: successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. It succeeded only in part. The findings from the National Discussion (Campbell & Harris, 2023) suggest that the capacities are still relevant but that our qualification and assessment system does not yet align with the aspirations. This report from the Independent Review Group provides a unique opportunity to make things better. To give every learner in Scotland the best possible life chance and, to quote a member of the Independent Review Group, Professor Graham Donaldson, to avoid qualifications being a drag anchor on innovation.

Qualifications and assessment are powerful. So often that power is reported to be negative. If their power can be harnessed as a force for good, the possibilities are exciting. This report is just the beginning. If we have the courage to take this chance, if we are prepared to work together to make it happen and to ensure that change is properly resourced, future generations of learners in Scotland will be grateful. For those of us who work in education, this is our chance to release the creative potential that exists within Scottish education.

Professor Louise Hayward on behalf of the Independent Review Group

From IRG members

Peter Bain, Headteacher, Oban High, CCG School Leaders.

“This report has brought together an orchestra of evidence and opinion, all highlighting that the narrow subject based, heavily exam dependent status quo is not in the interests of our learners, our employers, our society. We need learners who have been given time and support to attain a wealth of knowledge, skills and experiences, and who are ready to take their place in the workplace, in society (either directly or via FE/HE).”

“A Scottish Diploma of Achievement, ensuring the acquisition of both academic and professional subject knowledge through the Study element; learning in context through the Project element; and being able to demonstrate wider achievements no matter the environment though the Person element, will ensure our learners will better be prepared to take their place in society. However, to ensure the success of this SDA the IRG/CCG model should be maintained. It is an inclusive model, and has engendered a degree of trust across all those involved. The ultimate success of the SDA will depend on employers and universities seeking it as their principal requirement for interview or entry to courses and jobs.”

Jo-Anne Baird, Professor, University of Oxford, CCG, Qualifications and Assessment.

“Many learners, teachers and parents think the educational experiences of young people are dominated by exams. These reforms respond to the need for more diversity in the assessment system, to better fit the needs of the modern world.”

Tracy Black, Director CBI in Scotland, CCG Employers.

“Businesses understand that qualifications and subjects studied are just one piece of the jigsaw when it comes to benchmarking a young person’s skills and achievements. Employers also want to see the candidate behind the grade. The CBI’s 2022 Education and Skills survey highlights this: attitudes and aptitudes for work were the most prized skills in both graduates and school leavers, alongside core skills and relevant work experience. The proposal of a Scottish Diploma of Achievement represents an important conduit for communicating these different skills to employers by providing a holistic representation of the skills, competencies and behaviours individuals have already demonstrated and can offer to business. This will ultimately help ensure that school leavers can transition into the workplace with full evidence of what they have achieved”.

Andrea Bradley, EIS General Secretary, CCG, Teachers and Lecturers.

“The education that Scotland provides for its young people and adult learners has always been about much, much more than a set of qualifications but somehow we have allowed qualifications to become the instrument of measurement of how well educated individual learners are, and of how well our schools, colleges and our Education system is educating them. Not only does this miss out so much of what matters within a good education, it misses out many learners, all of whom matter too. At last, we have an opportunity, through the Scottish Diploma of Achievement, to better reflect the broader purposes of education in positively shaping people and lives, not simply measuring or counting learners’ achievements but fully recognising and valuing them. We need to grasp this opportunity with both hands.”

Ruby Cardie MSYP, CCG, Young People.

"The future of qualifications and assessments must centre learners and our wider world, because not only do qualifications stick with us forever, but the skills gained from them do too. I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to represent learners with Beinn and Mo in the independent review of qualifications and assessments in Scotland. As young people, our contributions were taken really seriously by the independent review group due to our current, first-hand experience of Scottish qualifications and assessments. At the monthly meetings with the IRG, we advocated for a rights-based approach to learning in line with the UNCRC, which is gladly reflected in the review.

It was also important to hear the views of other young people. Before becoming a member of the IRG, I took part in the Scottish Youth Parliament’s winter one-day event that focused on educational attainment and as part of this, I was consulted on the first stage of the review alongside other MSYPs. I felt as if our views were genuinely listened to and am glad that our response was well reflected in the results of the consultation, which included responses from learners within schools and colleges - including my own - up and down the country. I facilitated later consultations on stage two of the review, where we heard the views of young people on the Diploma. As part of the stage two consultations, we talked to the collaborative community group of young people and the Scottish Youth Parliament, in addition to hosting a young people’s engagement evening that allowed a wider demographic of Scottish learners to be included in the review.

As members of the IRG, our views were not only heard but played an active role in the outcome of the review. This is the heartening result of the learner-centred process of the Independent Review on Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland.”

Chris Chapman, Professor, University of Glasgow, CCG, Change Processes.

“The review of qualifications is a potential game changer for Scottish education. If the ideas and recommendations in the report can make their way through the system into schools and classrooms then all Scottish learners are likely to get a better education and have their achievements more appropriately recognised.”

Graham Donaldson, Advisor, Author of Teaching Scotland’s Future and Successful Futures (Wales) CCG Policy Alignment.

‘This report addresses longstanding issues relating to the role of qualifications. Its potential will only be realised if we fully support necessary professional learning for teachers as they rise to the challenges of its realisation’

Andrew Findlater, DHT Charleston Academy, CCG Teachers.

“The Review of Senior Phase Qualifications and Assessment has been an ambitious yet pragmatic process deeply rooted in what is best for the next generation of Scotland’s young people. Implementation plans have been carefully considered to ensure the profession has appropriate support that leads to sustainable change.”

Beinn Grant, MSYP, CCG, Young People.

“I can’t describe how incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity to have been involved in Prof. Louise Hayward's Independent Review Group on Qualification and Assessment as one of two representatives for Young People. Having been involved in the process from the start I know how challenging it has been to bring together people from every aspect in our society to co-design one collective vision for how Qualifications, and Scottish Education as a whole, should work.

Throughout the process Louise and other IRG members were actively seeking our input and making us feel heard. She consistently encouraged open dialogue, creating a space where we could freely express our ideas, concerns, and suggestions. Louise’s genuine interest in our perspectives has been incredibly empowering and has reinforced my belief that Young People can and should be meaningfully involved in decision-making processes. Something that is unfortunately uncommon for Young People, like myself, to find in many reform and regulatory spaces.

I also want to acknowledge the Secretariat Team, my fellow MSYP Ruby Cardie, and our amazing SYP staff member Mo Whelton for their unwavering support, hard work and dedication. Together, along with our community collaborative groups, we have spent a year working on the proposed models for change and the new Scottish Diploma of Achievement; a model which I truly believe will keep the UNCRC at its heart as it supports the young people of the future on their own learner journeys. It’s vital, however, that opportunities for widespread collaboration and youth involvement like this aren’t a one off chance but rather the new norm for reforms in Scotland.”

Douglas Hutchison, Executive Director of Education, Glasgow City Council, CCG Local Government

“Change in the education system is a challenge because we need to balance the needs of those in the current system with the pressing need for change. The report strikes the right balance between much needed reform now while pointing over the horizon to the ongoing and more radical change we need. It is now up to all of us in the system to deliver a more inclusive way of accrediting young people’s learning with the right qualifications.”

Ken Muir, Author of the Muir Report, CCG Policy Alignment

“Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education, elicited clear messages from practitioners and stakeholders about the need for cultural and mindset change, as well as structural change, in Scottish education. A critical driver in making these changes relates to the future of assessment and qualifications; how we can ensure they are responsive in the context of constant and significant change; and how certification recognises and values the wide and ongoing achievements of all learners. What is proposed in the Hayward report is a major step towards ensuring Scotland has a modern assessment and qualifications system that delivers for all learners and is truly fit for the future.”

NPFS & Connect, Cheryl Burnett and Patrick McGlinchey, CCG Parents

"NPFS and Connect are grateful for the opportunity to contribute parent/carer perspectives to the Review and look forward to working toward implementing positive changes which will empower all learners to make the most of their learning journeys in the future"

Jonathan Powles, Professor, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning, Teaching & Students) , CCG Universities

“Universities Scotland L&T group met last week and remain very content with the direction of travel.

Universities are very supportive of the proposals to broaden the body of evidence that can be used that learners are ready for university study. As society changes, university study changes with it, and the university students of the future will need to master not only specialist subject knowledge, but also weave together that knowledge in increasingly uncertain, changeable and complex contexts. Above all they will have to master the art of learning itself, so as to be effective contributors to Scottish society, industry, our professions, culture and polity. The proposed Scottish Diploma of Achievement will provide an excellent foundation for learners as they complete the university degrees of the future.”

Mark Priestly, Professor, University of Stirling, CCG Curriculum, Pedagogy, Assessment and Qualifications.

“I very much welcome the directions in qualification reform signalled by the Hayward report. The move to a longer study period, personal development and an interdisciplinary project, alongside subject specialism, goes a long way towards establishing a qualifications system that rewards broad achievement while incorporating rigorous study. It is to be hoped that this renewed approach will address some of the endemic problems associated with current qualifications, including formulaic teaching and the two-term dash. I am confident that it provides the foundations for the development of the knowledge and skills necessary for navigating the complexities of modern society, including changing workplaces. One word of caution – we also need to address the culture where attainment is a high-stakes issue for schools, or we risk muting the positive effects of the proposed reforms.”

Pauline Radcliffe, Chief Executive SCQF, CCG SCQF Partners.

“As Scotland’s National Qualifications Framework the SCQF has, throughout its 22 years of its existence, supported learners and their guidance givers to plan and navigate their learning pathways, championing diversity of choice, quality and parity of esteem in the way in which education providers and employers recognise learning achievement, in whatever setting learning might take. I’m delighted that this Review has clearly highlighted equity and inclusion as priorities in the implementation of curriculum and assessment reforms and the central role of the SCQF in promoting learning programmes that support young people’s full development potential”.

Joe Smith, Lecturer, University of Stirling, CCG Curriculum, Pedagogy, Assessment and Qualifications

“The current system of one-year qualifications distorts the curriculum in the senior phase. Such short courses lead to assessments which reward hoop-jumping and memorisation and give no time for students to develop deeper knowledge and a love of their subject. These proposals promise to take knowledge seriously. By encouraging the study of subjects across two-years of the senior phase, we can develop appropriate courses with valid assessments. Teachers will have time to explore their subjects in more depth, rather than always teaching with one eye on the test. The proposal for an interdisciplinary project is to be welcomed too. Combined with longer courses of subject study, the project is an opportunity to do interdisciplinarity in a rigorous way. No big problem can be tackled from a single disciplinary perspective, but we do need rigorous disciplinary knowledge to tackle them. The project allows students to see the disciplinary contributions of their subjects and will help students understand how the knowledge and expertise developed in their subject studies have real-world application.”

Edward Sosu, Reader, University of Strathclyde, CCG Equity.

“Evidence of learner achievement should be based on experiences supported by the educational system rather than solely defined by a learner’s family circumstances. This was a key focus throughout the review and exemplified by the call for Personal Pathways to be an entitled experience at school rather than activities undertaken outside school.”

Gordon Stobart, Professor IoE, Author of the OECD Stobart Report, CCG Qualifications and Assessment.

“We live in a rapidly changing world. Education systems are having to adjust to this, and internationally we are seeing changes to the way students learn and what they learn. While Scotland has led the way in this with its Curriculum for Excellence, its historic assessment system has limited the changes in senior secondary education. Professor Hayward’s Independent Review Group has sought to better align the Scottish examination system with these contemporary needs. It offers a powerful way forward for assessment in Scotland.”

Ken Thomson, Principal Forth Valley College, CCG College Principals.

“It is really forward thinking to recognise vocational qualifications as professional and technical SCQF levelled qualifications alongside national qualifications giving all learners recognition of their learning and skills. A real bonus for their future opportunities.”

“Scottish colleges have long since utilised continuous assessment through all levels of qualification to evidence the skills and competence of learners. The introduction of the SDA gives recognition of skills alongside academic achievement and provides an excellent career pathway for learners. Through developing and sharing the delivery of specialised subject areas in school college partnerships and with industry support, a position unique across the UK, we really are talking about a truly integrated educational system in Scotland to the benefit of all learners.”

Mo Whelton, SYP, CCG Young People.

“I was delighted to support our MSYPs throughout this journey in reviewing Scottish qualifications and assessments. I would like to thank Professor Hayward for putting young people's participation at the heart of this work and truly focusing on what is best for all learners when thinking of the future of Scottish education.”



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