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

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

6. The Scottish Diploma of Achievement: Realising the Potential

6.1 Introduction

Change happens when people make it happen. Our Vision for qualifications and assessment, and the commensurate improvement in life chances for every learner in Scotland, will only become reality if communities work together to make it real.

Recommendation 13: Create a national plan to make the Scottish Diploma of Achievement a reality for all learners in all educational settings.

  • A national plan should be agreed for the introduction and development of the Scottish Diploma of Achievement to turn ideas into a reality for all learners in all educational settings. This plan should include resource implications.

Throughout this Review, we have heard people from all communities ask for change to qualifications and assessment but also to culture. In a joint think piece with the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), Chapman (2019) presents a model that helps to describe the changes to be made if the cultural shift that everyone believes will lead to a better system is to happen.

Figure 4: Chapman (2019)

Low social cohesion

High social cohesion

High social regulation

'Fatalistic culture'

'uncertian nostalgic organisations'


'Hierarchical culture'

'bureaucratic, managed organisations'


Low social regulation

'Individual culture'

'market-based state-funded organisations'


'Egalitarian culture'

'mutualistic self-improving organisations'


During the Review, we have seen evidence of all perspectives represented in this matrix. Those who are fatalistic, believe that despite the extensive engagement undertaken during the Review process and the political interest that underlines the commissioning of the work, nothing will change; or if anything does change, it will be for the worse. Some people feel trapped in hierarchical cultures, often highly bureaucratic establishments and organisations, angry, feeling that their expertise is not well used. Some state their commitment to reform but find only problems in any change proposed; others are passive, they do not complain, they conform. We have heard from people who see themselves not as part of a wider educational system concerned for the welfare and progress of every learner but as individuals, belonging to an educational establishment where they feel that their principal concern has to be for the reputation of their school and how well it compares with other schools or for the need to protect their organisation.

We have also encountered many schools, colleges, individuals and organisations where there is a strong sense of excitement about learning and a determination to enhance every learner’s opportunities. In these schools, colleges and organisations, where everyone in the establishment has the chance to be involved in developments, there is an energy that is evident in everything that happens. Learners, teachers, lecturers, parents/carers and leaders all have more rewarding experiences.

When people spoke with us about changing the culture, almost without exception that meant moving towards a more egalitarian culture, where within and across organisations, people learn together with a shared purpose, to improve the life chances of every learner in Scotland. In the context of qualifications and assessment, that is our Vision. There is a great deal of creativity in Scottish Education, the change process should be designed to release that creativity.

6.2 An Inclusive Approach to Change

One theme emerging through the work of this Review has been the desire across communities for more collegial, more empowered ways of working. The focus of activity should be to provide high quality learning experiences for all learners and for everyone involved, Teachers, lecturers, headteachers, principals, local authorities, RICs, national agencies, universities, employers and the voluntary sector should each ask what contribution they can make to ensure the Vision for qualifications and assessment real for every learner in Scotland.

Each has a part to play in bringing the Vision to life. It is important that each individual and every organisation is clear about their contribution to the realisation of this. Identifying roles and responsibilities is an essential part of building on expertise and avoiding overlap. However, for some colleagues, collaborative ways of working may be new and support and encouragement may be required if all are to feel confident in different ways of working.

“Professional learning might be needed for some teachers to be able to participate in co-creation of assessment approaches - this the legacy of years of top-down decision-making” – (CCG member, Teaching Profession)

Recommendation 14: Development the national plan and the wider process of change in ways that are inclusive and collegial.

  • It should be based on the Vision and Principles, must involve all those with an interest in qualifications and assessment and have a clear indication of how different communities will contribute to making the ideas in the Vision a reality for every learner in Scotland.
  • It is critical that all communities have opportunities to develop an understanding of the new approach to assessment and qualification system in Scotland. There should be opportunities for all involved in qualifications and assessment to discuss this report and to consider how the Vision and Principles might be put into practice in their context.
  • The plan should include a review cycle (Recommendation 4) where evidence is gathered from policy and practice to explore the relationship between ideas and practice and, where these start to diverge, to take appropriate action. This formative approach to review should be undertaken in partnership by practitioners, policy makers and researchers.

Recent publications have highlighted the need for cultural change. Changing from a culture that is hierarchical to one that is more collaborative and empowering. Many schools, colleges and organisations are inclusive and collaborative. Leaders constantly seek to improve the culture by working collegially with learners, teachers and parents. However, the evidence from this Review and from other recent reviews suggests that this is not universally the case. Muir (2022), reported that young people he interviewed were often dissatisfied with their education and raised profound questions of the culture that exists in some parts of the system”(p12). Priestley et al (2023) reported that a strong culture of performativity in schools which was having a negative effect on the Senior Phase. Many schools, the researchers reported were “encouraging the instrumental selection of content and/or organisation of curriculum provision to maximise attainment in the Senior Phase”. (p9)

The plan for change discussed in this Chapter is neither top down nor bottom up. It is an inclusive approach that is built on mutual respect and collaboration.

This approach will depend on all those who want to improve learners’ experiences of qualifications and assessment being willing to work together. No contribution from any community is more important than any other. Change comes from the power of communities collaborating in the interests of all learners, not only for the learners in their schools, colleges or communities. In this Chapter we identify the kinds of contributions that different communities can make to ensure that the Vision becomes a reality for every learner in Scotland.

Scotland is a country where, historically egalitarianism has been valued. The principle of equally valued contributions based on collaborative approaches is a strong theme in policy documentation. Yet, Humes (2023) argues that significant change is required if statements about collaboration and empowerment in policy documents are to become practice. He is critical of what he perceives to be a pattern of activity in Scotland where reform is associated with changing structures. That, he argues, is insufficient.

“Cultural reform is arguably more important than simply changing structures, but it is not easy to achieve and takes time. Many observers, inside and outside the world of education, perceive the system as authoritarian (despite the use of a soothing rhetoric of ‘empowerment’).” (p25)

Similar concerns about the challenges facing Scottish Education were reflected in Chapman & Donaldsons’ (2023) analysis of the future for Scottish Education. They suggest that:

“while there are many good examples of collaboration, there can be a ‘hidden’ sense of competition compounded by the desire to hide differences or ‘variations’ in performance, irrespective of their nature or source.” (p7)

They describe the Scottish educational system as being at a crossroads and urge us to “up our game if today’s young people are to thrive in an increasingly complex and challenging world.”

This Review offers an opportunity to improve future qualifications and assessment in Scotland and to undertake that task in a more collaborative, empowering way. In planning for successful cultural change in qualifications and assessment, the reported experiences of learners, the impact of accountability systems, the need for more equitable power relationships and the challenge of building an education system that is collaborative rather than competitive are themes that should be at the heart of the process if change is to lead to improvement.

However, the context for the Review of qualifications and assessment in Scotland is complex. The effects of the pandemic remain profound on learners, teachers and on wider society. We have to begin the process of change from where the system is, rather than where we would like it to be. There are global challenges, for example, in climate change and a protracted war in Europe. The financial climate is more challenging than it has been for many years and many families across Scotland are facing hardship as inflation soars. However, the speed at which society is changing (Chapter One) means that we have to find ways to ensure that qualifications and assessment are right for future learners and for wider society.

The proposals in this report are not cost neutral, so change has to be carefully managed, linked to the capacity of the system and the resources available. The phases for change outlined in this Chapter are a proposal. Whether or not it is realistic will depend on the resources available. The timeline should be kept under review to reflect changing circumstances, positive or negative. If the timeline is too fast, the system may not be able to respond. If it is too slow, momentum will be lost.

6.3 Planning for the Future of Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland

One of the first tasks of the change process should be opportunities for learners, teachers, parents/carers and lecturers across Scotland to discuss the proposals for changes to qualifications and assessment. Discussions should begin from the Vision and Principles, what the proposed changes seek to achieve and why they matter. It is important that links are made across the various parts of the broader education reform process to allow all those involved to see the bigger picture, and how the proposals fit within it. As changes to qualifications and assessment have implications for wider society, a communication strategy should be developed to raise awareness across communities of the proposals for change (see below).

The Importance of beginning with and maintaining a focus on purpose: Vision and Principles

The idea of having a Vision, a clear purpose of what an innovation seeks to achieve, is commonly part of the early stages of the development process. However, too often after the initial introduction, the Vision is set aside, and the focus of attention moves from why the innovation matters to what should be done, how it should be done and when it should be done. When that happens, the sense of purpose can become disconnected from the actions being taken.

The Vision and Principles (Chapter Five), the purpose of the reform, should be the starting point when taking forward recommendations from this Review. All communication should begin with purpose, why qualifications and assessment are changing and what the reform seeks to achieve. People need space and time to make sense of ideas. For example, in educational settings, there should be opportunities for learners, teachers and, as appropriate parents and carers to discuss the Vision, before considering the SDA as a whole and its three components parts. People need time to consider ideas and to reflect with colleagues on what the SDA would look like in their context if the Vision were to be in practice.

A Plan to phase change

Recommendation 15: Introduce the Scottish Diploma of Achievement in phases.

The introduction of the SDA should be in a series of three overlapping phases. The phases should first, create the conditions to support successful change, second, make changes to create the new qualification, and third, embed the qualification across the system. Each phase should have a plan to support the enactment of ideas in practice in ways that empower communities. Resource implications should be clearly identified. The plan for the phased introduction of the Diploma should be discussed and agreed by the start of session 2024-25.

We acknowledge that there are dependencies including other changes envisaged in The Scottish Government’s wider education reform programme and the availability of resources to support these changes.

It will be key that educators are well prepared to lead and to put the SDA into practice. Learners and other communities must be involved in the process and understand the significance and reasons why the system is taking this direction of travel.

The details of implementation are out with the scope of this review. However, the key features of each phase should include the following:

Phase One: Creating the Conditions for Scottish Diploma of Achievement (2023-27)

  • place learners interests at the heart of every decision during the process;
  • develop an implementation strategy for the three phases, including a communications plan to raise awareness of the SDA across all IRG communities. This should include consideration of the digital infrastructure requirements and the opportunities and challenges afforded by AI;
  • commissioning of an independent longitudinal evaluation of the design, implementation and early impact of SDA;
  • build collaborative networks where every organisation has a clear understanding of the roles each will play in the design and development of the SDA; and
  • invest in professional learning to support implementation.

Phase Two: Creating the Scottish Diploma of Achievement (2026-30)

  • design and develop different parts of the Diploma with collaborative networks of educational settings;
  • review and revise National Qualifications;
  • put system-wide professional learning in place to support the Diploma into practice;
  • implement national moderation plan and build system capacity to put it into practice and;
  • develop and trial e-portfolio and digital infrastructure.

Phase Three: Embedding the Scottish Diploma of Achievement (2028-32)

  • first cohort of learners are awarded the SDA;
  • all educators confident and competent in supporting recognition of learners achievement to be recognised through SDA;
  • all learners in Scotland working towards SDA;
  • review and refinement of systems and processes based on early findings from independent evaluation and;
  • system-wide confidence in SDA.

Recommendation 16: Make time available for staff in Education. Education staff need time to access professional learning, to collaborate and to engage with the changes being proposed. Given the unique needs of the GME sector professional learning tailored to help support the Diploma for Gaelic speaking learners and educators is crucial.

Education staff must have time to access professional learning, collaborate and engage with the changes being proposed, for example,

  • It will be crucial that educators are confident to engage in meaningful Project Learning and to guide individuals in respect of the Personal Pathway. It is likely that support in these areas will be needed for a range of groups who may be involved in elements of the Diploma – this may include teachers, lecturers, parents/carers, youth workers, school, colleges and other settings that provide education.
  • The creation of a Personal Pathway element of the Diploma will require teachers, and others, to help learners identify opportunities and then support them to reflect on learning they have undertaken. While developing skills in this area should be an important part of the overall professional learning offer, we further recommend that dedicated resources should be made available to support this aspect of the Diploma. Strong system leadership will be required for it to be embedded in Scottish education.
  • Professional learning that brings together curriculum design, learning, teaching, assessment and qualifications must be accessible for all educators working in the Senior Phase. This must support better understanding of the importance of learner voice, progression in learning, task setting, feedback and moderation processes.
  • Staff in national bodies also need time to work with others to review and develop courses, to trial new approaches and to establish new systems that are rigorous but light touch. To enable progress to be made to the recommendations in this Review in a reasonable timescale, existing commitments may have to be reviewed and a limited number of clear priorities agreed.

6.4 Introducing the new approach to Qualifications and Assessment

Recommendation 17: Develop a long-term engagement and communication strategy

The new approach to qualifications and assessment should be supported by a long-term engagement and communication strategy. It should be developed with different communities to meet their needs and its impact evaluated.

Communication is an essential part of any reform. The wide range of individuals and groups involved in qualifications and assessment make it particularly important that the communication plan recognises this, and that communication is targeted to reflect the needs of different communities. For example, the culture of qualifications in Scotland is deeply embedded, steeped in the traditions of generations of people who have gone through school and whose expectations are that the current experiences of learners will be similar to their own. The communication strategy should consider creatively how to explain the changes to wider society. For example, in Ireland during the reform of their Junior Cycle, they created short, explanatory videos that were shown on television and in cinemas see, explanatory video.

The communication strategy should be long-term. It should aim to begin when parents/carers make contact with Early Years settings and build through primary schools where connections can be made between practice in early years and primary education and the achievements that will be recognised as learners progress in the Senior Phase towards the SDA in educational settings.

Communication is not the same as dissemination. Communication means engaging with individuals and communities. The IRG and the associated CCGs included a wide range of members from different communities, all of whom could be part of the communication strategy. It is those closest to each community who best understand the needs of their community. They understand what will work and what will not. It will be important that approaches to communication are planned with communities. Asking members of the CCGs to share information about the SDA with their community could also be an effective way to communicate.

The impact of approaches to communication should be evaluated and evidence from the evaluation used to influence future communication.

6.5 A National Model for Supporting the Profession in Sharing Standards

Recommendation 18: Build a national strategy for standards.

  • There should be an agreed national plan to build and sustain local and national standards for qualifications and assessment.
  • Training in how to avoid bias should be an essential part of the strategy and should involve teachers from Scotland’s increasingly diverse workforce.
  • The strategy should be developed collaboratively by policy makers, practitioners and researchers.
  • Current quality assurance processes should be reviewed to ensure that they are dependable, but not overly bureaucratic.
  • As a matter of urgency, digital solutions to labour intensive, paper-based quality assurance systems should be introduced.

It is crucial that every learner in Scotland who undertakes the Diploma is treated fairly. The SDA places greater emphasis on the professionalism of teachers and their professional judgement. To ensure that teachers’ judgements are consistent across the country, a system to share standards through local and national collaboration will be required. This will be a central feature of building qualifications that are highly regarded. Colleges already have established moderation processes built up over many years that may offer useful examples of how to make moderation manageable.

Building a strong understanding of national qualification standards amongst teachers is important for qualifications to be dependable. It is, however, just as important as an issue of equity. Commonly, teachers work in one school, or a small number of schools where their understandings of progression are based on the learners with whom they work. Some may have experience of national standards, for example, in working as a marker with SQA, or have experienced professional learning. However, beyond qualifications, having teachers who understand standards, matters to learners.

Standards should exist within a strong progression framework. To build a good, practical understanding of standards, teachers need appropriate opportunities to discuss examples of pupils’ work at different national standards. They then need opportunities to share and discuss examples of their own learners’ work with peers and to learn about factors that can interfere with good judgement, for example, unconscious bias. These experiences will deepen teachers’ understandings of standards and will not only ensure more dependable judgements but will feed back into improved classroom practice. For example, better understandings of standards will reduce the potential for teachers to underestimate the standard, offer feedback based on that and inadvertently disadvantage learners.

Teachers must have a good understanding of standards and be able to use them in practice if all learners are treated fairly. To make sure that learners are to be treated fairly no matter who is their teacher or what school they attend, schools will need to work with others in moderation activities. Effective moderation requires a national system where national agencies, local authorities, teachers, headteachers and researchers agree fit for purpose approaches to moderation. Approaches to moderation should recognise the importance of teacher professional judgement and build capacity through an appropriate balance of peer support and proportionate national processes. Processes should be fit for purpose and not overly bureaucratic. Bureaucratic approaches are created; they are not inevitable. Fairness for learners should be the core of the process.

Building confidence in teachers’ professional judgement is crucial and takes time. There are resources available on the SQA website to support the process of sharing standards in examinations, coursework and on key factors in developing an equitable system, such as, addresses issues of bias. These offer a starting point to explore national standards. Training in how to avoid bias should be an essential part of the strategy and should involve teachers from Scotland’s increasingly diverse workforce.

However, there is more to be done. Urhahne & Wijnia (2021), having analysed international research evidence on teacher judgement over a period of 40 years, suggest that how dependable teachers’ professional judgement depends on the task they are undertaking. The researchers differentiate between relative and absolute judgements. Where teachers are making relative judgements, for example, judging whether one piece of work is better than another to produce a rank order, the accuracy of their judgements is high. When making absolute judgements, for example, the difference between teachers’ predicted scores and learners’ actual achievements, teachers tend to over-estimate performance. The evidence suggests that teachers find estimating the performance of learners making less progress more challenging than learners who are high performing. Developing a sound understanding of how bias (race, gender, class and disability) can impact teachers’ professional judgement is crucial if every learner is to have a fair assessment.

6.6 The Scottish Government, the National Education Bodies and Local Government

The Scottish Government, new national education bodies and local government should play a prominent role in leading the reform of qualifications and assessment in ways that clearly signal a commitment to cultural change. Plans for developing the SDA should be developed and put into practice collaboratively to recognise and value the contribution of every participant.

Recommendation 19: The Scottish Government and the new national education bodies should model cultural change.

  • As the SDA is developed and introduced, the Scottish Government and the new national education bodies should model cultural change by working collaboratively in ways that recognise and value the contribution of every participant.

Recommendation 20: Embed Qualification and Assessment developments clearly and explicitly within the wider reform agenda.

  • The Scottish Government must, as a matter of urgency, communicate a clear narrative that shows how the developments in qualifications and assessment are an integral part of the wider reform agenda.
  • The Scottish Government should establish collaborative structures to take forward the development of the SDA that mirror those developed during this Review to ensure that all those with an interest in qualifications and assessment continue to be part of the strategy for its realisation.

6.7 The New Qualifications Body

Recommendation 21: Design the new national qualifications body to work in partnership with learners, teachers, policy and research communities to:

  • Develop a flexible modular approach to National Qualification courses to allow learners to build credit over time towards qualifications and to enable the system to respond with agility to the changing needs of individuals, society and the economy.
  • Extend the range of assessment methods within National Qualifications and identify what other actions might be taken to reduce the potential for rote learning and enhance the learner experience.
  • Rationalise the existing range of courses to create a clear, coherent offer for learners, parents/carers, schools, colleges, employers and universities.
  • Build a new approach to qualifications and assessment that has public confidence, is highly regarded nationally and is rigorous but not overly bureaucratic.

The new qualifications body has the opportunity to make a significant contribution to promote high standards of personal achievement for every learner, and to the development of a more collegiate culture.

The current Examination Authority, SQA, has staff with highly specialised knowledge and skills in qualifications design and development. The organisation offers a wide range of internationally recognised qualifications, extending far beyond the more widely used National Qualifications. Within that broad profile, there are examples of courses that could provide a helpful starting point for some of the more innovative aspects of the SDA, for example, Project Learning.

The wide range of qualifications available in the SQA catalogue can be contrasted with the smaller range of courses that are accessed by learners in schools and colleges. SQA already has plans in place to rationalise the extensive range of courses on offer, particularly where courses developed to meet historical demand, have similar content. We would support that decision and believe that it would help clarify the purpose of ‘families’ of courses, reduce the time spent on course bureaucracy and help to reduce the complexity for learners, parents and carers, colleges, employers and universities.

6.8 The New Curriculum Body and the New Qualifications Body

The new national bodies have opportunities to work collaboratively to support the profession in the introduction of the SDA, drawing on the different but complementary expertise across the two organisations. The current curriculum agency, Education Scotland has staff with significant expertise in collaborative professional learning. Professional learning will be a crucial part of building the SDA. Researchers in different universities in Scotland also have significant international expertise in the processes of change. The new national curriculum body has an opportunity to draw together expertise in professional learning from across research, policy and practice communities to develop a national network to work with schools and colleges across the country to in taking the Diploma forward.

There are important tasks to be undertaken to bring the ideas in the Diploma to life. For example, the new curriculum body in partnership with the new qualifications body should work with learners, teachers, (including subject specialists), policy and research communities to improve course progression between the BGE and the Senior Phase, and within National Qualifications offered in the Senior Phase. There should be a golden thread running through curriculum, progression, assessment and qualifications. Good models of progression are central to qualifications that are progressive.

A second priority lies in Project Learning. Although many schools and colleges engage in Project Learning within courses or across subjects or programmes, for others it is less familiar. There is little point in every school and college developing similar resources to support Project Learning, what some teachers have described as ‘reinventing the wheel’. National bodies working with local authorities/RICS and researchers have a key role to play in working with school and college leaders and teachers and lecturers to develop and to examples of Project Learning that can be shared across the country for educational settings to adapt to suit their own circumstances.

Third, national agencies have a major role in helping to build and to sustain national standards to take forward the national strategy for standards (Recommendation 17).

Recommendation 22: Ask the new curriculum body, in partnership with the new qualifications body to work with learners, teachers, policy and research communities to:

  • Improve course progression between the Broad General Education (BGE) and the Senior Phase, and within National Qualifications offered in the Senior Phase.
  • Co-construct and to trial examples of Project Learning in different educational establishments across the country. These examples should be made available to schools and colleges nationally for teachers/lecturers to adapt to their own circumstances.
  • Work with local authorities, schools, colleges, teachers and lecturers to build a national moderation system that is rigorous but proportionate.

6.9 The Independent Inspectorate

HMIE have the potential to be powerful agents to support the introduction of the Diploma. For example, inspectors can support its development by identifying, sharing and promoting practices that are key to its effective introduction, for example, working across subjects, mentoring learners in personal learning.

In addition, HMIE are employed as professional evaluators. In addition to their Inspection Programme, working with researchers, policy makers and practitioners, teams could be built to undertake regular formative evaluation of the SDA as it develops in practice. The earlier potential problems are identified, the easier it is to take action to bring ideas and practice into closer alignment.

Recommendation 23: Ask the Independent Inspectorate (HMIE), to work in partnership with learners, teachers, policy and research communities to:

  • Ensure the process of inspection effectively supports the introduction of the SDA in ways that are consistent with a collaborative, empowered culture.
  • Review practice with researchers and practitioners as the SDA develops and to identify if gaps are emerging between intentions and practices. The evidence emerging from these reviews should be used formatively to identify actions to re-align the process.

6.10 Embedding the Scottish Diploma of Achievement as Expected Practice.

Over time, it is important that the Scottish Diploma of Achievement becomes the norm in all educational settings in Scotland. Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and the General Teaching Council in Scotland (GTCS) have major roles to play in that process.

6.11 Initial Teacher Education and the Teaching Qualification in Further Education

ITE has a crucial role to play in the introduction of the new approach to Qualifications and Assessment. ITE is, for most new teachers, is the first in-depth contact they have with teaching as a profession.

In ITE there are opportunities to build in new practices as part of the role of being a teacher. Students who study subjects and also work in interdisciplinary contexts in ITE will expect to do the same in schools. Student teachers who have opportunities to develop mentoring skills with learners will be able to use those skills with their own classes and as part of the Personal Pathway. Student teachers who are introduced to curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and qualifications as a whole will build that understanding into their practices. When introduced to Assessment, for, as and of Learning, they can build expertise in task design, feedback and moderation processes. These experiences will provide student teachers with the attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed for effective transition into schools. They will also provide schools with increasing numbers of teaching staff who are well placed to support the introduction of the new SDA.

The Teaching Qualification in Further Education (TQFE) also has a significant role to play in setting expectations for lecturers in colleges about the nature of their role. It will be important for TQFE providers to review their programmes and to include the three aspects of the SDA to ensure that FE lecturers are able to support all learners as they work towards the Diploma.

The GTCS have responsibility for setting entry criteria to the profession and professional standards for teachers. They also ensure that teachers are committed to ongoing learning by requiring teachers to complete a process of Professional Update. The new approach to Qualifications and Assessment will require a shift in balance in their roles and responsibilities. The GTCS can support this different balance by reflecting these changes in the standards and their exemplification. It would be particularly important to ensure alignment between changes in ITE and the related professional standards. While we understand that the Professional Standards have recently been reviewed, we are of the view that they should be updated as necessary if the Diploma is to be introduced.

Recommendation 24: The SDA should become expected practice for teachers:

  • Teacher Education Institutions should work with the GTCS to review their programmes to ensure that newly qualified secondary school teachers and college lecturers are well-prepared to work with the different elements of the SDA.
  • TQFE providers should review their programmes to ensure that college lecturers are well-prepared to work with the different elements of the SDA.
  • As part of their review cycle, GTCS should reflect the need for all secondary teachers to work with the SDA in their Professional Standards.

6.12 Colleges and Universities

The success of the SDA will depend significantly on its use by colleges, universities and employers. As indicated previously in this report, qualifications in Scotland are an important currency for learners. Qualifications are used to select learners for courses or for interview. In discussion, a number of employers spoke of the limited nature of evidence existing qualifications offer and argued that a broader range of evidence including the skills developed by learners would help them to make better decisions. Universities, likewise, now pay significant attention to graduate attributes. These are closely linked to the evidence being requested by employers. Learners also wanted to have opportunities to personalise their qualifications and assessment profile, to offer to colleges, universities and employers a better sense of who they are as individuals including their broader achievements.

The three elements of the SDA offer a wider range of evidence for colleges, employers and universities to use to support better decisions about admissions to courses and programmes.

Recommendation 25: Encourage colleges, employers and universities to use the wider evidence base provided by the SDA as the basis of decisions they take when selecting students or employees.

6.13 National monitoring and accountability systems

One of the most common complaints we heard during the Review related to the negative impact on schools, teachers and learners' of data gathering for monitoring and accountability purposes.

The gathering of data on National Qualifications as the principal measure of attainment in schools was identified as having significant, unintended washback effects. Schools perceived themselves to be judged on this measure alone rather than on the broad range of qualifications they offered to meet the needs of all learners. National Qualification performance is the evidence used by newspapers to create league tables. The league tables are perceived in some communities as evidence of school effectiveness yet on the whole, they reflect the socio-economic circumstances of schools. By providing only a partial picture of what goes on in schools, they also contribute to problems of parity of esteem. If National Qualifications are the evidence used to judge performance, then they must be what really matter. The Scottish Government has taken steps to try to broaden the evidence it gathers. However, the unintended consequences remain in the system which suggests the need for further review.

For example, many argued in the Review that some schools, concerned to improve their metrics, advise learners to take courses that would improve school metrics rather than meet the needs of learners. It was also reported that publishing this data often had an impact on schools who were low in media generated league tables, undermining confidence in the school in its community and leaving hard working learners and teachers dispirited.

Recommendation 26: Require national monitoring and accountability systems to gather information on the breadth of achievements recognised within the SDA. Insight and the National Improvement Framework (NIF) should be updated to reflect success as envisaged in the SDA.

There are alternative approaches for gathering data to inform local and national policy that do not have a negative washback effect on practice. National surveys offer policy makers a way to gather evidence that will give them high quality data but will not drive unintended consequences of the kind described earlier in this report. Scotland previously ran a national survey, the Scottish Survey of Achievement. This survey was conducted over time in different areas of the curriculum whilst also giving information on literacy and numeracy. Local authorities also had the option to opt for an enhanced sample to be gathered within their authority. This provided authority level data that could be compared against the national picture.

Surveys also have the advantage of being able to address specific questions of interest to policy makers, for example, about the performance of specific communities or groups of learners.

Although it is beyond the remit of this Review to make recommendations on alternative approaches to national monitoring and accountability, we would urge The Scottish Government to consider alternative survey based approaches.



Back to top