Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment Group minutes: February 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 23 February 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Hayward (Convenor), Emerita Professor, University of Glasgow
  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, EIS Union
  • Beinn Grant, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Cheryl Burnett, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Professor Chris Chapman, University of Glasgow
  • Douglas Hutchison, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland
  • Doctor Edward Sosu, University of Strathclyde
  • Eileen Prior, Executive Director, Connect
  • Doctor Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications Development, SQA
  • Professor Gordon Stobart, Emeritus Professor of Education, University College London
  • Professor Graham Donaldson, University of Glasgow
  • Professor Jo-Anne Baird,  Director, Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment 
  • Doctor Joe Smith, Lecturer Education, University of Stirling
  • Professor Jonathan Powles, Vice Principal of Teaching, Learning and Students, University of the West of Scotland
  • Professor Kenneth Muir, University if the West of Scotland
  • Professor Ken Thomson, Principal and Chief Executive, Forth Valley College
  • Mo Whelton,  Project Manager, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Pauline Radcliffe, Chief Executive, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework
  • Peter Bain, Headteacher, Oban and Tiree High Schools
  • Ruby Cardie, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Tracy Black, Director, Confederation of British Industry, Scotland
  • Secretariat, Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment, Scottish Government 


  • Angela Morgan, OBE, Board Member at Consumer Scotland, Autor of the Additional support for learning action plan: progress report 


  • Andrew Findlater, Depute Headteacher, Charleston Academy 

Items and actions


The Convenor welcomed the group to IRG 9. 
The Convenor introduced and welcomed Ruby Cardie, the new MSYP to the group and Angela Morgan (guest speaker) to the meeting.

Convenor Update

The Convenor discussed the next stages of the Review and highlighted the importance of the direction of travel, setting out the challenges and what it will take to overcome these. 

The Convenor reiterated the areas of consensus among the group which included:

  • the risk of remaining same is higher than risk of change
  • no high stakes exams - three years in a row
  • concerns around teacher workload (any recommendations need to include support)
  • school and colleges should be referred to as “education establishments” 

Angela Morgan - Presentation to the Group

Angela Morgan's presentation reflected on where we are three years on from her report. The Morgan Report was conducted in 2019 and completed end of February 2020.   

Angela Morgan made the following points: 

  • it is important to articulate what others are cautious about saying (culture is important, there are some circumstances in which people cannot express their true views)
  • enable a culture that rewards speaking truth and staying true to vision
  • concept and language can limit / enables parameters of discussion
  • reconsider the word "additional" in the Review in terms of "additional support needs".  It is not viable to design a system that suits two thirds of learners. without ASN to then adapt it for the third of learners with ASN
  • there are always children who can achieve in traditional / academic routes.  The pitfall of current language makes it difficult for those with additional needs to be included
  • in the current system qualifications are visible and valued and so are seen as a measurement of success
  • parents / carers want their children to be included, in social activities and to be involved with their peers. There are strong feelings here and parents want their child to achieve their best and fulfil their potential
  • creating cultures of trust and openness going forward is imperative
  • Angela read a Vision statement from CiS Youth Ambassadors and encouraged IRG to look at the CiS inclusion awards – on CiS website 

Group Discussion: 

  • teacher training and the next generation of teachers is important: for example, not focussing on subjects alone but looking at interdisciplinary learning and gaining knowledge / skills
  • sometimes support workers cannot understand the subject which leads to the learner teaching the support worker about the subject when they are scribing
  • ASN legislation - contradictory message to lifelong learning
  • media focus is on stats and comparisons: messaging in the media is worth working on.  Examples given around Violence Reduction media campaign and the Irish campaign that followed Orlagh through school.  How to communicate change to a wide audience
  • employers resource spend on education in Scotland is not low but there is an output issue around overqualification, and the low productivity number in Scotland - individuals are talented but not necessarily trained with the right skills
  • agreement that CfE would solve some problems, however qualifications currently direct the curriculum in a way that does not work well
  • learners should be doing subjects they are good at, rather than selecting based on that is what is on offer in the “columns” – learners need the opportunity to do what they enjoy or are strong in
  • many parents do not feel they have a voice
  • the group questioned some "positive destinations" such as going to college a few days a week with no future-plan, can we really say that is a positive destination
  • there are currently a very wide range of qualifications available, but the choices are made locally, this leads to limited options for some learners (For example – there are not enough people to deliver some subjects in areas leading to a limited choice)
  • previous OECD report on learners and motivation.  Estimated 2/3 learners are motivated by an end destination and 1/3 are motivated by something they enjoy and something they are good at

Interim Report

The Convenor thanked the group for comments on the Interim Report and highlighted the tight timescale.  The Convenor asked the group to submit editing comments to the Secretariat and substantive issues would be discussed today. 

Comments were noted on the foreword including:

  • mention of economy
  • mention of technical and professional skills
  • vocational education is missing from the draft
  • ensure we use technical skills for vocational and academic – as previously agreed 

Group discussion around whether learners should take a hybrid approach (academic/vocational) or commit to one route.  

What would encourage people to take a hybrid approach? 

  • people know exams are difficult, and therefore they are more impressive
  • trying to give a more rounded approach for learners
  • learners choose a particular pathway when they are fifteen, then spend bulk of time learning skills, attribute, and competencies
  • more engagement for learners with workplaces results in better outcomes
  • learners should have the opportunity to study both vocational and academic
  • is the lack of parity a cultural thing or a deeper policy view or both
  • breadth of subjects can narrow life choices (do not make learners study things they do not want to do, just so they can say they have done something technical / professional), learners should be able to choose a particular pathway along with interdisciplinary learning, literacy and numeracy  

Other comments for consideration:

  • everyone who is employed must learn vocational / technical skills
  • the view that some learners are academic, and others are vocational is outdated
  • education serves many purposes, not just work, serves communities and societies
  • be clear and reference learners and their rights (UNCRC)
  • exams at exit point
  • school focussed - what can we say about colleges
  • if you are doing a two year higher and change your mind, do you leave with nothing or can you build up credits over two years so you can’t leave with nothing
  • this phase of consultation needs to be high level about approach
  • schools who trialled two years higher found that some subjects did not need two years
  • two-year programme – will schools introduce prelims and clock up pass marks for quality assurance measures which will be published – resulting in the same as the current situation

What more do people need to know about the model? 

  • learners doing N1 to 4 - some questions are phrased around exams and not all learners sit exams (needs some reframing to make language more inclusive)
  • the model removes three consecutive years of exams
  • suggests move to system which assesses through internal assessment and exams (not always exams)
  • fully inclusive language and no questions on extending experience of exams
  • if there is any form of external validation - to have differences across qualifications is divisive - reduces sense of worth - externality does not mean examination (different teacher etc) gives sense of equivalence or equal value 
  • parity - SCQF - subject specialism is the focus and vocational again looks optional or like a hobby
  • personal pathway - no exam but external validation is important for quality
  • vocational not just in personal pathway - also in interdisciplinary and subject
  • subject studies can include vocational (for example, not just maths and French, also hospitality and childcare)
  • questions suggest exams are the experience of all learners in senior phase, this needs reframing
  • use of language needs to be inclusive throughout. Certain phrasing could be interpreted as we are moving to a system of more internal exams as well as external – we are not extending exam experience – this needs to be clear to everyone
  • need to give each of the aspects equal value, it still looks like qualifications is the main stay - personal pathway should be equally as important 


The Convenor thanked IRG members for their contributions and closed the meeting. Next IRG meeting will be Thursday 30 March.  


  • the Convenor asked the group to submit editing and comments for the Interim report to the Secretariat
  • the Secretariat will incorporate the changes discuss today to the Interim report and share amended version with the group
  • points from Angela Morgan’s presentation will also be consider for the final report  
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