Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment in Scotland: interim report

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


This Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment was established by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, to ensure that all future learners are well prepared for the exciting, yet uncertain, world that they will encounter. Recognising every learner's achievements will be crucial if Scotland as a society is to thrive socially, culturally and economically.

In undertaking this Independent Review, my main aim has been to work with others to make principled and practical recommendations for the future of qualifications and assessment in Scotland. The Review builds on the findings from the OECD report Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence - Into the Future (2021) and reflects on the aspirations of those who originally designed Curriculum for Excellence. It considers the recommendations of the Stobart Report (2021) Upper-secondary education student assessment in Scotland: A comparative perspective. However, the starting point for this Review lay in conversations with colleagues from The Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children's Parliament about their vision for the future of qualifications and assessment in Scotland. They worked with me to develop the first draft of the Vision and Principles and recognised that a qualifications and assessment system that improves outcomes for all learners is key in helping to create a fairer and more prosperous society in Scotland. We are seeking to promote meaningful engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, including those seldom heard groups whose voices are often absent in policy discussion.

At the heart of this model of engagement has been the Independent Review Group (IRG) and the associated Community Collaborative Groups (CCGs). Originally 13, the number of CCGs was expanded to include a wider range of communities who had specific interests in the work being undertaken. The commitment of the IRG and CCG members has resulted in deep and sustained discussions about the future of qualification and assessment amongst approximately 400 people. Schools and colleges across the country have also been involved in the discussions and more than 700 responses were received to the public consultation. Many of these responses have been from groups of participants, often including young people.

Discussions have been open, challenging and, at times, robust, but always constructive, undertaken by people determined to design a system of qualifications and assessment that will make a positive difference to every learner's future.

In this Interim Report to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, I would like to express my thanks to all those who have worked with me to explore the future of qualifications and assessment in Scotland. Together, we have engaged with stakeholders from all corners of the Scottish Education landscape; learners, parents /carers, teachers and lecturers, school and college leaders, employers, policy makers, national bodies, politicians, wider practitioners, researchers (national and international) and universities. Insights from the wide range of communities involved in this Review have informed thinking to date and act as a major source of evidence for this Interim Report.

The process of consultation has not always been perfect, and not always successful in involving all those we intended to take part in the three phases of the Review. As we have moved through each phase, we have been learning how to improve engagement with ever-increasing numbers of people. We are still learning,

The Review's engagement strategy has also offered opportunities to visit, both virtually and in person, a number of schools and colleges across Scotland. I would also like to thank all of those who have so willingly shared their practice and who discussed the future of qualifications and assessment with insight and enthusiasm. I have particularly valued the opportunities I have had to hear directly from young people. While it is vitally important that the Review engages with a diverse range of groups with a stake in Scottish education, it is of the upmost importance that the "voice" of young people be heard, understood and upheld. It is their future and it is they who will be at the vanguard of change in Scottish culture and society in the years to come.

In various ways, the current qualification and assessment system has served many learners in Scotland well. Scottish Education remains highly regarded internationally and Scotland's qualification system has contributed to that. School and College partnerships have become an increasingly positive feature of the educational landscape. However, experience gained as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for a more resilient assessment system. Although never the intention of those who designed the qualifications, learners report narrow, often formulaic experiences in national qualifications where learning feels distanced from life.

The COVID-19 experience also brought into sharp focus the need for an approach to qualifications more closely aligned to Scotland's ambitions to achieve greater equity in education. For there to be greater equity, and more generally, for Scotland to thrive socially and culturally, there needs to be prosperity and the nation's future prosperity is dependent on a healthy economy. Currently, in Scotland, there are gaps between the existing skills' base and the skills needed to support economic growth. Making better use of information about future opportunities in the workplace will provide learners with better evidence to make informed decisions about pathways they may wish to pursue.

Societies across the world are changing at pace as globally we begin to glimpse the fundamental changes underway, for example, in artificial intelligence. They look to education and to qualifications to support their learners as they transition beyond school and college. Scotland cannot be left behind. As a country, we must ensure that all learners are supported to face the challenges of a future we can be certain will be very different from the world as we know it. Risk lies not in changing our qualifications and assessment system, but in not making sure that it is fit for the future. The risk of not changing our approach to qualifications and assessment is too great both for individual learners and for Scotland as a nation.

This Review, therefore, is not asking if the system should change, but what should change and how change might best be supported. The pace of change and the phases of change; what might be achieved in the short, medium and longer term are key considerations for this Review. Crucially, we need to identify what we will stop doing to create the space for new practices to be developed. New practices cannot simply be added to existing practice, yet deciding what practices to end is not an easy task. No longer doing what we have always done is never easy in any context. For example, very few people believe that the current approach of the two-term dash to Higher is good practice. Yet, moving away from that will require more than system change. Crucially it will require a change in mindset.

This Interim Report tells the story of the Review so far. It describes the research that informed the design of the Independent Review. It explains the structure and workings of the review process, the Independent Review Group and the Community Collaborative groups. The three phases of the review process are described and findings are reported from the first phase which set out to develop a shared Vision and a set of Principles to inform the design of future qualifications and assessment in Scotland. Findings from the second phase are also presented. During Phase Two the Review sought views on what evidence should be gathered as part of qualifications and assessment, how evidence for different kinds of achievement should be gathered and how evidence might best be presented in ways that would be consistent with the agreed Vision. Feedback from these two phases was independently analysed and currently, we are using this feedback, together with evidence from the sources referred to previously in this foreword, to design a possible future model for qualifications and assessment in Scotland.

Following the publication of this Interim Report, we will begin Phase Three of the consultation. We will invite views on a possible model, asking if it is consistent with the Vision that has been collectively agreed. We will also seek views on what actions need to be taken to make sure that the model, or an adaptation of it, will work in practice. Throughout this process of Independent Review, the Independent Review Group has sought to be both principled and practical. For example, any ideas proposed in the model for the future of qualifications and assessment in Scotland will already be in practice in the qualifications' system of at least one other country. However, I am strongly of the view that ideas cannot simply be transferred from one country to another, practices will be adapted for the Scottish context.

This Review is one of a number of Scottish Government Reviews that are looking to the future of education in Scotland and seeking to build on the best elements of current practice in Scottish Education and beyond. The National Discussion, the Morgan Review (2020), the Muir Review (2022), the Career Review and the Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape are all policy reviews likely to have and or continue to have an impact on school and college education in Scotland. I am also mindful of the opportunities and challenges set out in Scotland's National Strategy for Economic Transformation (2022).

Taken together, this suite of work has the potential to represent a turning point in Scottish Education. For this Review, that turning point will position qualifications and assessment as drivers for a better future for every learner and for Scotland as a society. I have confidence that by adopting a learner-centred approach that is both principled and practical, together we can release the creative, collaborative potential of the Scottish Education system.

On behalf of the Independent Review Group, I look forward to submitting a final report with principled and practical recommendations to the Cabinet Secretary at the end of May.

Professor Louise Hayward: Convener, Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment



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