International Council of Education Advisers: third report 2021-2023

This is the third formal report of the ICEA relating to their third two-year term (2021-2023) of work.

Review of the main recommendations of the major education reviews (2021-2023)

After the publication of ICEA 2020 report, Scottish Government commissioned several major independent reviews of education that focused on various specific aspects of education in Scotland. This section summarises the main findings and indicates synergies and commonalities with the ICEA 2020 report.

In 2021 (June) the OECD produced a report that focused specifically on Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) ‘Into the Future: Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence’ and concluded that there was a need to make “adjustments within CfE’s flexible framework to achieve its potential for learners present and future”. The report suggested that continued efforts were needed to enhance the coherence of the policy environment with CfE, and that the approach to the ongoing implementation of CfE had lacked structure and long-term perspective. This was aligned with the ICEA 2020’s recommendation regarding “review of the curriculum”. The recommendations from this OECD report included “adapting the pedagogical and assessment practices and the structure of learning pathways in the Senior Phase to enhance learners’ experience of upper-secondary education and help them develop CfE’s four capacities continuously”.

The recommendation regarding the senior phase by the OECD prompted a further report Upper Secondary Education Student Assessment in Scotland by Professor Gordon Stobart in August 2021. This report concluded that the alignment between CfE and upper-secondary assessments could be improved by:

  • introducing more innovative external assessments in order to capture a wider range of student capabilities;
  • rethinking the role of teacher assessment, with more emphasis placed on continuous school-based assessment; and
  • establishing better integration of the academic and vocational strands with the assessment system which, given Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) responsibilities for both, would offer a broader range of curriculum options.

The Stobart 2021 report was also well aligned with the ICEA 2020 report regarding the reform of assessments and examinations in Scotland.

In June 2021, Scottish Government commissioned Professor Kenneth Muir to undertake a review of education in Scotland with a view to recommending improvements to the national educational infrastructure. The resulting report Putting Learners at The Centre - Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education (Muir Report) was published in March 2022. This report also had considerable synergies with the ICEA 2020 report. Among the many recommendations, the report specifically recommended the replacement of the SQA, the creation of an independent inspectorate and a reformed national agency. It also recommended a National Discussion to establish a compelling and consensual vision for the future of Scottish education.

In July 2022, two National Facilitators, Professor Alma Harris and Professor Carol Campbell, were appointed by Scottish Government to lead the National Discussion. A report All Learners in Scotland Matter - national discussion on education: final report was published in 2023. The report from the National Discussion included a renewed vision for Scottish education and aligned values to guide the system to be ambitious, inclusive and supportive, plus Calls to Action for learners, a learning system, digital transformation, and human-centred educational improvement. The Calls to Action (C2A) signalled the need for changes. The report highlighted an enthusiasm for ongoing engagement in discussions and actions that would make those changes a reality. It commented that it would be a huge lost opportunity for Scottish education if this groundswell of current support was lost or side-lined. This report echoed many recommendations in the ICEA 2020 report, especially regarding “Engagement of students, families, and communities”, “System leadership, partnerships, and collaboration for a networked learning system”, investment in “school leadership and the teaching profession” and an “expansion of learning outdoors”.

In June 2023, It’s Our Future: A Report of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment led by Professor Louise Hayward (Hayward Report) was published. This report recommended major changes to assessment in Scotland including the introduction of a Scottish Diploma of Achievement (SDA) as a graduation certificate for all senior phase educational settings, the end of exams in S4 and a wider range of methods used for Higher and Advanced Higher assessment. It also recommended a digital profile for all children and young people, which allowed them to record personal achievements and plan future learning. These recommendations could be seen as a follow-through of the ICEA 2020 call for “reform of assessments and examinations”.

Together, these reviews and reports, which were based on sound evidence taken from international evidence and advice and comprehensive soundings in different parts of the Scottish system, reveal commonalities regarding a need for significant change within Scottish education. Collectively these reports point towards the need for:

  • greater levels of local empowerment, more transparency and greater synergy from collaboration across the system;
  • meaningful engagement with and respect for the education profession, children and young people, their families and the different communities in educational improvement;
  • structural and cultural change through significant and immediate changes to the SQA and Education Scotland;
  • changes to assessment, specifically but not exclusively in the senior phase, that ensure that CfE continues to be aligned to all phases of education and that there is parity between vocational and academic pathways;
  • ensuring all children and young people in Scotland have equitable experiences and improved educational outcomes;
  • a direct focus on teaching, learning, equity and wellbeing; and
  • high quality implementation of reforms.

Given this collective work, the ICEA’s assessment is that the time for commissioning reviews is now over. There is a strong consensus about the need for action but the specifics remain to be determined. We recognise that some changes take time, and that fiscal austerity is a limiting factor. But we are concerned that the momentum of change might not match the appetite for change within the system. We offer our recommendations in this report in 7 strategic areas for action, establishing the basis for an extended period of strategic reform.



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