Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment Group minutes: March 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 30 March 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Hayward, (Convenor), Emerita Professor, University of Glasgow
  • Pauline Radcliff, Chief Executive, Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework
  • Beinn Grant, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Ruby Cardie, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Cheryl Burnett, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Douglas Hutchison, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland
  • Eileen Prior, Executive Director, Connect
  • Dr Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications Development, SQA
  • Martyn Ware, Policy, Analysis and Standard, SQA
  • Professor Gordon Stobart, Emeritus Professor of Education, University College London
  • Professor Ken Muir, University of the West of Scotland
  • Professor Ken Thompson, Principal, Forth Valley College
  • Mo Whelton, Project Manager, Scottish Youth Parliament
  • Peter Bain, Headteacher, Oban High School
  • Tracy Black, Scotland Director, Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
  • Elizabeth Morrison, Professional Advisor, Scottish Government
  • Secretariat, Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment, Scottish Government
  • Dr Joe Smith, Lecturer, University of Stirling
  • Professor Graham Donaldson, University of Glasgow
  • Dr Edward Sosu, University of Strathclyde
  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, EIS Union 


  • Ian Christie, Senior Researcher, The Lines Between 


  • Professor Johnathan Powles, University of the West of Scotland
  • Professor Jo-Anne Baird, University of Oxford
  • Professor Chris Chapman, Glasgow University
  • Andrew Findlater, Depute Headteacher, Charleston Academy
  • John Semple, National Parent Forum of Scotland 

Items and actions


The Convenor welcomed members in person and online to IRG10.

Review Update

The Convener provided an update including: 

  • the deadline for responses to Phase Three has been extended. Responses should be in by 14th April however responses will be accepted up to the end of April, if respondents contact the secretariat in advance
  • final report to Cabinet Secretary by Wednesday 31 May

Ian Christie – The Lines Between

Ian delivered a presentation on their independent analysis of the Phase Two consultation – including the public consultation. Several points from IRG were raised, including: 

Clarification on how responses were counted. It was noted that some schools had many learners involved in the single school response, whereas in other schools, the response was completed by the Headteacher alone. It was requested that a paragraph be added to make this clearer.

It was noted that a similar issue was apparent in respect of professional bodies and trade unions; where one response represents the views of the union’s membership. It was requested that this was clarified. 

It was pointed out Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) and Senior Leaders Scotland (SLS) is not in favour of an award at the end of Broad General Education (BGE) but that was not clear. A sentence to clarify this was requested. 

SQA noted that the findings in The Lines Between report were similar to findings in research which SQA had undertaken.

The view of employers set out in the consultation report resonated with the views heard in the employers collaborative community group. 

It was highlighted that schools, learners and teachers have been grouped together in the report, but these groups are likely to hold different views and that this should be highlighted. It was agreed to make distinctions clear.

Ian Christie noted the points of feedback and agreed to consider these points of clarification.

The Convenor noted that The Lines Between report and the responses to the public consultation would be published in April.

Phase Three Consultation

The Secretariat provided a high-level summary of emerging findings from Phase Three. It was noted the sample size was small, so emerging findings were tentative and designed to give IRG an overview. 

It was noted that the Phase Three responses would be analysed independently by a contractor and published in due course.

Preferred model for Qualifications and Assessment

The Convener noted today IRG would be working through eight questions designed to develop the model further.  

Q1: Why do you believe that the Scottish Diploma of Achievement (SDA) is better than our existing arrangements?

A range of reasons were noted by members and included:

  • learners have a wide range of requirements and education needs to recognise more than subjects
  • SDA would deliver a coherent model and a fairer system for recognising different types of achievement
  • SDA has the potential to be inclusive for all learners
  • SDA if well implemented should provide a wider reflection, clearer picture of learner capabilities, skills, knowledge and achievements
  • all learners will leave with a useful qualification
  • offers a more accurate picture of learners’ achievements at the time of award
  • gives every learner a chance in life, who they are and what they could be
  • co-designed and developed
  • recognise the knowledge, skills and experiences that learners have achieved
  • allows learners to achieve their potential - prepared for ever changing world 

Final report to clearly articulate why the SDA will be better for different groups e.g. learners, universities, employers etc.

Q2 a) Is IRG comfortable with the language being used in relation to the model?  How could this be improved?

Members were not comfortable with the current nomenclature and did not think it was clear enough. Comments included:

  • SDA name does it a ‘dis-service’, baccalaureate has more prestige
  • Personal Pathway is not right and is too vague
  • Diploma is already associated with a particular level of qualification
  • Baccalaureate sounds too elitist
  • it was suggested that something simpler like ‘study’ ‘project’ ‘person’ could be used for each of the components
  • the term Scottish Education Award was suggested as was Individual Learning Award
  • Individualised Certificate of Achievement and Scottish Certificate of Educational Achievement were suggested and discussed.  


  • there was broad agreement to the term Scottish Certificate of Educational Achievement (SCEA)
  • there was general agreement to the components being called “Study”, “Project”, and “Person”

b) How could the illustration of the model be strengthened?

  • feedback was given that the model should be displayed as a series of concentric circles
  • IRG members offered to draft another version of the model and share this with the Secretariat  

Position: The revised model would be used to redraft the model graphic.

Q3 - In the Final report what is our decision re differentiating / grading the SDA?  If the decision is to grade / differentiate, what level of detail do we wish to offer?

The group discussed the pros and cons of grading the SDA/SCEA. Comments included:

  • grading the whole is not appropriate, some learners will excel in some areas and not in others
  • if there is an option for a ‘distinction’ then learners may choose to focus on this, thereby narrowing learning
  • employers need distinction between candidates - needs to be useful, learners need to demonstrate who they are
  • needs to highlight their strengths and differences
  • the more we require of each of the components the more resource will be needed

Position: The group agreed that the SDA/SCEA should not be subject to an overall grading

Q4 – What approach should we take to grading the individual components of the SDA/SCEA to ensure it works for learners, education establishments, national bodies and users?

The group discussed the different mechanisms for grading each of the components. 


  • the group agreed, where appropriate Study will be graded (e.g., subject and, or work-based learning), the Project will be linked to SCQF levels (but not graded) and the Person element will not be subject to any form of linking to SCQF or grading
  • the group remain of the view that all components must be achieved for the Diploma to be awarded
  • evidence of achievement will be gathered at point of exit 

Q5 - Is it necessary to specify the ‘weight’ or ‘value’ of each of the components of the SDA/SCEA or is it enough to make clear that all components must be completed for the SDA/SCEA to be awarded?

The group discussed the pros and cons of weighting each individual component. Comments included:

  • differentiating / grading, of the SDA/SCEA devalues it for some; with those who perform well in the current system benefiting disproportionately
  • differentiating / grading is essential to encourage learners, to motivate them to strive for greater achievements
  • differentiating / grading demonstrates rigour of the SDA/SCEA - will help users of qualifications with recruitment
  • the SDA/SCEA as a whole could be ungraded, with achievement levels being identified within the individual sections
  • if the SDA/SCEA is to be individualised then there should not be min or max requirement; should depend on the individual learner  

Position: Components should not be weighted – all three components matter. Learners must provide evidence against all three components, but may focus more on e.g., the Subject, or on the Project. 

Q6 - What steps should be taken to ensure we build confidence in the dependability of the SDA/SCEA?

A range of comments and suggestions were made:

  • what does ‘completion’ of a component actually mean
  • there cannot be a situation where learners end up with nothing - need teachers to monitor the progress of learners
  • who runs the project in schools
  • when do you do the project
  • dependability - how do the projects compare? One done in Oban, and one in Glasgow – may look very different
  • learners don’t know when they are going to leave school
  • continuous gathering of evidence and then pressure at the end vs accumulating evidence over time as you go
  • feedback could make learners try harder
  • can a learner undertake a project at any time in school
  • can they decide what level of projects
  • can they do more than one project
  • need more work on how the project will look and work

Position: Sub-groups to be set up in advance of the next IRG to work through some of these issues.

Q7 - If the Personal Pathway remains part of the proposed new approach, how can we ensure all learners are entitled to access opportunities that allow them to demonstrate broader skills and achievement, and that there is confidence in the dependability of information contained in the pathway? 

A range of comments and questions were raised, including:

  • what are the entitlements that every learner in Scotland should have
  • the beauty of the SDA/SCEA is that the learner can decide what they want to do
  • hopefully gives learners who have a tougher start, better opportunities to reflect on their skills and knowledge
  • education settings could develop a menu of options - then it is obvious when they’re not provide enough for learners
  • mentoring and coaching for the learner needs to be explicit
  • planning should happen throughout the school and not just in S4
  • everyone should have something they can list in a personal statement or to an employer (work, singing, care, Duke of Edinburgh awards etc)
  • educational settings need to provide learners with topics that links to their interests
  • is this about using the skills they already have or about learning new skills? If it is to record what they already have - does not exacerbate inequalities
  • it is about showing their skills do matter - confidence in themselves

Position: Equalities issues to be discussed as part of the Person sub-group.

Q8 - What degree of choice does IRG believe to be desirable and possible in each of the three areas of the SDA/SCEA?

There were different views around the level of choice that should be offered. Comments included:

  • there is fairness in everyone undertaking the same assessment method
  • if there is a choice in assessment type, employers may have preferences and view e.g., external assessment more favourably
  • there is a danger that employers and universities could ask learners what type of assessment they opted for
  • the current NQs have been designed for an external assessment at the end
  • these would need to be redesigned if they were only going to be internally accessed  

Position: Sub-groups to explore the issue of learner choice before the next IRG. 

Next steps

The next IRG is Thursday 27 April. This will be the last formal IRG meeting.


  • the Convenor noted that the Secretariat would be in touch regarding the sub-groups
  • amendments to be made to the Phase Two consultation report before publication
  • secretariat will issue an email update to schools, colleges and stakeholders on the extended deadline for Phase Three, and process to follow
  • final report to clearly articulate why the SDA will be better for different groups e.g., learners, universities, employers etc
  • revised model graphic will be used in the Final report  
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