Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment: consultation analysis

Summarises views from correspondents on phase three of the Independent Review covering each of the three elements within the proposed Scottish Diploma of Achievement (Subject Studies, Learning in Context and the Personal Pathway).


The Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment was announced in October 2021. The aim of the Review is to ensure that all Senior Phase learners in Scotland (predominantly those aged 15-18) have an enhanced and equal opportunity to demonstrate the width, depth, and relevance of their learning.

The Review has been led by Professor Louise Hayward, supported by an Independent Review Group which includes teachers, learners, parents/carers, users of qualifications, academics, and policy makers. The Review has been undertaken over three phases: Phase One was designed to develop the underpinning vision and principles, while Phase Two consulted on a set of options for change. This report presents findings for Phase Three. This sought views on a high-level overarching model for qualifications and assessment via discussions with Collaborative Community Groups (CCGs) and allied discussion groups, led by members of the Independent Review Group, and an online survey to schools and colleges. The draft model can be found on page 13.

The Review questionnaire covered views on a draft high-level model, each of the three elements (Subject Studies, Learning in Context and the Personal Pathway), the Diploma, the changes in practice needed to deliver the new system and naming of the qualifications, as well as providing opportunities to comment on the Review process.

The Phase Three engagement ran from 3 March until 31st April. This report covers responses received until 14 April (with later responses analysed separately). The responses analysed in this report comprise: 311 School and College survey responses; 34 non-survey responses submitted directly to Scottish Government; and 19 CCG and allied discussion group meeting reports, representing over 400 people.

The feedback received though this engagement is being used to further develop the model ahead of a final report and recommendations being submitted to the Cabinet Secretary at the end of May 2023.

The proposed model

CCG groups and those responding via the School and College survey agreed with the proposal that the new model would both continue to offer learners opportunities to demonstrate achievement in subjects and have greater opportunities to demonstrate wider achievements. However, most of the respondents via the School and College survey raised concerns about the model. The CCG groups also considered that implementation would not be challenging. The main issues raised are discussed below under each of the elements.

Subject Studies

Views on the proposals for the Subject Studies element were mixed. The CCG groups largely agreed with the model's proposals but acknowledged that success would depend on a significant cultural shift among key stakeholder groups. Opinions from those responding via the School and College survey were much more varied, with some supportive of the proposals, while most had reservations including some who favoured retention of annual exams.

Respondents considered the positive aspects of the proposals were the move towards fewer exams, which they felt would reduce stress and improve the learning environment; and the shift to a broader range of assessment approaches, especially where this puts the learner at the centre of their education.

Concerns were raised about the need to ensure alternative assessment approaches are as robust as the current external examination model; the staffing implications of managing and marking these approaches; qualifications for learners who leave before the end of the Senior Phase; options for learners wanting to take 'crash' courses in S5/S6; communication to key audiences, such as employers and academic institutions; and addressing inequalities between schools/learners.

Learning in Context

Views on the Learning in Context proposal were also mixed: generally, the CCG groups were positive, with learners especially enthusiastic; opinions from the School and College survey respondents were mixed, with some very positive, some expressing qualified support and many fairly negative.

Respondents considered the key positive aspects of this element were that it would motivate learners; and provide opportunities to deepen knowledge and develop understanding, skills and experiential learning on a much wider range of topics. Some qualified their support by commenting that while the Learning in Context proposal is a really good idea it will take a great deal of planning, preparation and resources to implement successfully.

The key concerns/issues mentioned by respondents were a need for clear guidance on development, phasing, scope and implementation and assessment; increased workloads to develop and deliver project work/interdisciplinary learning; concerns about the practicalities/constraints around timetabling interdisciplinary learning across the full curriculum; need for skills development/training; and equalities issues at the individual level for learners with additional support needs, especially those with literacy difficulties, and for settings in lower socio-economic areas. Concerns were also raised by respondents about validating/assessing the learners' work and, linked to this, how employers/universities would perceive this element.

Personal Pathway

Views on the Personal Pathway proposal were varied: the CCG groups welcomed this proposal, while on balance opinions from the School and College survey were more likely to highlight concerns.

Respondents considered the key positives of this element were that it offered opportunities for learners to evidence a wider range of achievements and had the potential to provide valuable opportunities for all learners. Learners and users of qualifications were especially likely to support this proposal.

However, a number of concerns were also raised from the survey and the CCG discussions. The key issues mentioned were that learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, lower socio-economic areas and rural areas would have far fewer opportunities to achieve than others; concerns relating to consent, data ownership, data security; and concerns about the staff time, training and general resources that would be required to deliver the element effectively. Respondents also raised concerns about validating/assessing the learners' work; and how this element would be perceived by employers/universities. Some respondents argued that learners should have a right to privacy; while some argued that it was important they developed a healthy work/life balance; and were not required to document their extracurricular activities.

Scottish Diploma of Achievement

The CCGs and many of the respondents via the School and College survey welcomed the idea of a Scottish Diploma of Achievement (SDA) for all learners in Scotland. Many School and College survey respondents stated that they would need more information before commenting. Those welcoming the Diploma felt it would recognise a wider range of achievements than is the case under the current system, so will be accessible to more learners.

Suggestions to make the Diploma work in practice included early consultation/engagement with stakeholders so as to draw on their experience to fully develop the model; further clarity on exams and assessment issues; further clarity on the weighting between the three elements; measures to encourage stakeholder buy-in; and a detailed implementation plan. Respondents also raised issues around the need to introduce measures to address equity issues, workload issues, and resource constraints.

Qualifications and assessment system

Consultees were asked which changes to existing practice would they recommend to support the development of the new system. The main changes suggested were improving communications with stakeholders; adequately resourcing the new qualifications in terms of preparation time, teacher training, and budget; sharing best practice to promote continuous improvement across the country; and reviewing the inspection process to align with the new model.

Parity of esteem

Respondents were asked if, in order to support parity of esteem, they thought all qualifications at a particular SCQF level should have the same name. Most – CCG groups and School and College survey respondents – thought qualifications at the same level should have the same name.

Those opposed felt that learners' achievements won't be recognised under the proposal; and that users of qualifications will not get the information they need from the proposed qualification. They suggested that further consultation, in particular with users of qualifications, would be required before any change takes place.

Additional comments about the approach

Consultees were asked if they had any further comments about the approach. Most took the opportunity to reiterate points made previously in their response. A small number of other comments raised included: more information will be required during the implementation phase if schools and colleges are to be kept on board; reassurance is needed that sufficient resources will be made available to fund the changes; and a need to ensure the model takes account of the increasing availability of artificial intelligence (AI). Some respondents commented that the transition will be very disruptive for schools/learners, with some asking for 'breathing space' for further review/rethink.



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