Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment Group minutes: September 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 29 September 2022

Attendees and apologies

  • Louise Hayward (Convenor), Emerita Professor, University of Glasgow
  • Aileen Ponton, CEO, Scottish Credit Qualifications Framework 
  • Andrea Bradley, General Secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland 
  • Barrie Sheppard, Vice-chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS)
  • Beinn Grant, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Perthshire North
  • Cheryl Burnett, Chair, National Parent Forum of Scotland 
  • Professor Chris Chapman, Chair, Educational Policy and Practice, University of Glasgow 
  • Douglas Hutchison, President, Association of Directors of Education in Scotland 
  • Doctor Edward Sosu, Research Director, University of Strathclyde’s School of Education
  • Eileen Prior, formerly Executive Director, Connect
  • Professor Jo-Anne Baird, Director, Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment 
  • John Semple, National Parent Forum of Scotland
  • Professor Jonathan Powles, Vice Principal of Teaching, Learning & Students, University of the West of Scotland 
  • Doctor Joseph Smith, Lecturer Education, University of Stirling
  • Professor Kenneth Muir, University of the West of Scotland 
  • Margaret Farragher, Director of Policy and Standards, Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA)
  • Mo Whelton, Project Manager, Scottish Youth Parliament 
  • Tracy Black, Director, Confederation of British Industry, Scotland
  • Andrew Findlater, Acting Deputy Headteacher, Charleston Academy
  • Professor Gordon Stobart, Emeritus Professor of Education, Institute of Education, University College London
  • Professor Graham Donaldson, University of Glasgow 
  • Zainab Adeleye, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Glasgow Southside
  • Secretariat, the National Discussion, Scottish Government
  • Secretariat, Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment, Scottish Government
  • Peter Bain, Headteacher, Oban and Tiree High Schools


  • Doctor Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications Development, Scottish Qualifications Authority
  • Professor Ken Thomson, Principal and Chief Executive, Forth Valley College
  • Professor Mark Priestley, Professor of Education, University of Stirling

Items and actions

Welcome and Introductions

The Convenor welcomed members to the fourth meeting of the Independent Review Group (IRG). New members included John Semple of NPFS and Margaret Farragher, SQA. 
The Convenor invited comments on the minute prepared for IRG meeting 3. There were no substantial comments, and the note was approved as final pending one minor change to attendee list.

Independent Review Update

The Convenor provided an update on emerging themes which included:

  • 12-18 education should be coherent curriculum pathway within a common framework
  • there should be an element of contribution to society from learners in the new approach to qualifications 
  • more interdisciplinary focussed; setting learning in a ‘real world’ context
  • system should offer alternative ways of gathering evidence
  • consideration of inclusion of awards which are not recognised at the moment

This will require:

  • focus on curriculum, pedagogy and learning and assessment
  • an intention to create positive impact on learning and teaching - assessment systems should promote good practice
  • we approach issues, ensure they address any issues of equity
  • the need to work together in meaningful ways

Update on Engagement

The Convenor provided an update on the Scottish Learning Festival and CCG Webinar. These were successful sessions involving different communities: Learners (Beinn Grant), Practice (Peter Bain) and Users of Qualifications (Jonathan Powell). It was agreed to undertake more sessions like these with targeted audiences and strengthen the communications messaging surrounding the Review. It was agreed that messaging needs to be clear and understood by a wide audience.

Options for Change

The convenor summarised the discussion from IRG3 and then invited IRG members to consider each of the three questions, which are were included in an accompanying paper:

  • what evidence should be gathered
  • how should evidence best be gathered
  • how should evidence best be presented

The Group was also asked to consider whether there was a need to reduce the number of examinations and to develop a flexible model with a with mixed economy of assessment. The Group was further asked to consider the importance of including skills and competencies while recognising the challenges involved. 
IRG members made the following points:

  • considering how wider achievements should be recognised: How do we recognise wider achievements
  • Tertiary sector are looking at future skills/dispositions and it is important that the conclusions of this review are aligned with developments elsewhere
  • we need a national skills framework, to raise awareness of various pathways, including academic, professional and technical
  • parents/carers perceptions can have a huge influence
  • important to consider mental wellbeing
  • what competencies are needed to move forward, what do individuals need
  • qualifications need to have learning at their core
  • change will need to pay attention to the architecture of the senior phase
  • important to avoid adding to already existing disadvantage in society

Options for Change - Setting the context for change

Key comments:

  • the established/trusted nature of the higher/exams was discussed further
  • trust and security in the system is important, it is extremely hard to cheat on an exam
  • how would alternative systems of assessment going to be delivered securely
  • continuous assessment can be challenging. During the pandemic, some parents and young people complained about learners having to be “on their toes” for the entire year
  • it was noted that in universities have seen a considerable change in the modes of assessment, with less exams taking place
  • caution was suggested with regards to learners who might be competing in the UK and international market. The currency of Highers and advanced Highers has been won over many years
  • we do not want to disadvantage people by giving them qualifications that other systems do not recognise

Options for Change - Exams/Assessment

Key comments: 

  • many learners in the senior phase ‘just get test after test,’ they go into university and wonder where all the exams are and what has happened
  • in employment you can stand up against what you are assessed on. For the most part learners are told ‘this is what you are doing’
  • a learner could be able to contribute to making the decision about how they are assessed. We need to open the door to a wider approach to learning

Options for Change - Online/Digital

Key comments:

  • the use of profiles and self-assessment etc is a promising idea, opening in 1st year closing in 3rd year would not work
  • caution was urged around the use of digital: we cannot assume all learners and schools have the capacity to deal with the associated ICT/Digital requirements
  • we cannot assume that the digital skills/capacity are well developed for all learners


The following actions were agreed:

  • looking at qualifications in the sense of achievements in the various areas of the curriculum and within that the role of the learner is crucial
  • we want Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) delivered in the way it was intended
  • more opportunities for interdisciplinary learning are needed
  • producing a “menu” that people can think through for evidence gathering
  • looking at the framework that already exists within SCQF
  • to think about: A “wrapper” for something like a baccalaureate approach
  • consider a system as is, and the possibility of moving away from 5+ model to create space for new practices to become embedded
  • looking at other approaches: e.g., oral presentations
  • we need to consider the context within which any n measures will emerge in tandem with considering the long history of Highers and their place
  • recognise where we are right now - we cannot assume everyone has access to the digital skills/equipment that might be needed  

Closing comments

The Convener discussed arrangements for future IRG meetings and agreed to host IRG 5 at different location and agreed that IRG 7 would be virtual. The Convener thanked members for their time and closed the meeting.

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