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.

Strategic Area 2: Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment.

The ICEA recognises that CfE can allow schools to offer a highly flexible and adaptable curriculum, that is highly relevant in post-pandemic times to meet the needs of every child and young person. But the potential of CfE is yet to be fully realised, a point made by the previous ICEA report (2020), the OECD report (2021) and the Hayward Report. We need to examine and remove barriers which restrict curriculum breadth, flexibility and innovation, creativity and deeper and equitable learning for every young person. The aim is to sharpen the focus on the holistic development of every child, especially with skills and capacities that are much needed in a post-pandemic and rapidly changing world.

The pandemic also challenged many existing assumptions about assessments and examinations. Scotland has been among the global leaders in developing alternate forms of assessment for young people, and the Stobart and Hayward reviews exemplify the kind of evidence-based forward thinking in this regard. Hayward’s recommendations are directed towards encouraging and recognising a wider range of achievements than are possible in existing examination arrangements. However, there are also signs of an emerging global pushback towards retaining traditional exams, despite their potential negative consequences for student equity and well-being. For example, in Ireland, a Ministerial announcement in May 2022 that the Irish Leaving Certificate which had hitherto determined 100% of high school students’ ongoing certification with a one-time, sit-down, in person examination, would, in future, determine no more than 60% of a student’s final grade, was suspended just over a year later to allow for pilot projects on alternate assessments and for an evaluation of AI and its assessment implications to occur. Tensions between sound arguments to tilt assessment away from traditional forms and pressures to maintain traditional examinations largely as they stand will need to be addressed in an open-minded manner if the recommendations of the Hayward Review are to be progressed positively.

Specific Recommendations

1. Re-examine issues that hinder the potential of CfE to be fully realised, such as performance in examinations as a principal driver in secondary education and narrow metrics as school accountability measures.

2. Harness the progress made in digital literacy in both staff and students, which may require some curricular and pedagogical guidance and support for the profession from local, national or international sources.

3. Improve the alignment of assessment to better support progression of knowledge and skills through each level of education (notably in the senior phase). Promote access to the wider suite of qualifications and accreditation for young people.

4. Support the profession (e.g. in professional learning networks) in developing their capacity in continuous assessment and in designing, implementing and moderating assessment tools that are fit for purpose, both for internal and external examinations. Reduce the amount of external assessment so that teachers will have more space and time within the curriculum for innovative pedagogies, deeper learning, knowledge application, and skills development.

5. Address the tension between traditional examinations and alternative assessments in an open-minded manner.

6. Urgently examine the benefits and risks of AI for streamlining and improving examinations and assessments.



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