Putting learners at the centre: response to the independent advisor on education reform's report

Response to the report by the independent advisor on education reform, Professor Ken Muir.

A national agency for Scottish education

Professor Muir’s recommendations (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12)

6. There should be a national agency for Scottish education. This should be an Executive Agency of the Scottish Government comprising the current support and improvement functions of Education Scotland, SQA’s Accreditation/Regulation Directorate, the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Partnership and elements of Scottish Government’s Curriculum, Qualifications and Gaelic Division.

7. The proposed agency for Scottish education should take on board SQA’s current accrediting and regulating functions. It will be important that robust safeguards are put in place to ensure that regulation of qualifications remains at arm’s length from Scottish Ministers and the integrity of the regulatory role within the proposed agency is secure.

8. In addition to advising Government on curriculum and assessment policy, the main focus of the proposed national agency for Scottish education should be to provide responsive, bespoke support and professional learning at regional and local levels. While the proposed agency should also provide a national offer in respect of leadership and in areas to support policy implementation, this should be done through ensuring significant resource is made available to respond to the varied needs of all learners, teachers and practitioners at local and regional levels.

9. In line with best practice in the governance of public bodies, the Agency should adopt a participative approach to governance in all of its work. The Board and its Chair should reflect the range of stakeholders, including parents/carers and young people. In order to secure wide ownership of its strategic advice it should also utilise digital connectivity to achieve open and transparent engagement with all stakeholders, most notably all learners, teachers and practitioners and local government.

10. Given the Community Learning and Development (CLD) Standards Council has become successfully embedded within Education Scotland in its current form and feedback from CLD practitioners has been positive about its work, the Council should remain part of the proposed national agency for Scottish education.

11. With the increased focus of the proposed agency on providing support for improvement at local and regional levels, the Registrar for Independent Schools, with their national remit, should return to the Learning Directorate of the Scottish Government. With this change the Registrar for Independent Schools will be better placed to work more closely with the national professional body, GTC Scotland, with the requirement now in place that all teachers in independent schools are registered and regulated by them.

12. The proposed national agency for Scottish education should create and sustain a forum for ongoing and proactive discussion about curriculum, assessment, learning and teaching in Scotland. It should gather views from existing think tanks, research and practices, including in other jurisdictions, in order to develop and enhance key policies.

Initial response

Broadly accept: we recognise the need for a national agency for Scottish education that provides excellent leadership and support for curriculum, assessment, learning and teaching. In considering the OECD challenge to Scotland regarding the establishment of a curriculum and assessment agency, we accept Professor Muir’s conclusion that curriculum and assessment is intrinsically linked to learning and teaching, and therefore that national support should be drawn together in one agency. We also accept the case for addressing perceptions of variable support across the system. All parts of the education system are invested in the design and delivery of Curriculum for Excellence however the new agency will have the lead role.

A key function of this new executive agency should be responsive delivery that more consistently meets the needs of teachers and practitioners at local and regional levels. While having a clear set of new functions, the agency will be teacher-facing, visible and valued by the profession it serves. 

The new agency will reflect the culture and values we want to see embedded throughout our education system, one that puts learners at the centre, supports our teachers and practitioners by adding maximum value to educational improvement.

We also agree with Professor Muir that the SQA’s Accreditation and Regulation functions should be independent from the awarding body. However careful further consideration is required in relation to the scope of these functions and where these functions should sit in future, in particular ensuring that the independence of these regulatory functions is appropriately secured. Further focused work on this aspect, drawing on the knowledge and expertise which exists within SQA and taking into account the views of stakeholders will take place over the next few months.

We recognise the importance of responsive, bespoke support to address the varied needs of all learners, including those with additional support needs, and our teachers and practitioners throughout the learner journey. We will consider in a new agency how best to further align the entire learner journey from early learning and school to tertiary and work based learning to better connect and support from early learning to senior phase.

We accept in principle the centrality of co-designing education policy and that the best policy making is informed by practice at every step. While a new national education agency that works closely with local government, teachers and practitioners should help foster this, we must remain accountable for the education policy framework and therefore we will not transfer the current policy responsibilities to this new agency. We will work closely with the new agency, other stakeholders and, importantly, those responsible for implementing curriculum and assessment policy in our classrooms to determine how we can work collectively to design policy. We will seek to remove duplication and simplify the policy landscape, in order to encourage further flexibility and support empowerment in how policy becomes practice in schools and other learning environments.

As we work with stakeholders to take forward the establishment of this new agency, its design will be informed by the need to accelerate and intensify educational improvement, including pushing forward the closing of the attainment gap and reducing unwarranted geographical variations in outcomes. Throughout its work the new agency will be driven by evidence and integrate a data-based approach to fostering improvement.

We support the retention of the CLD Standards Council within the new agency. We will work closely with Professor Muir and stakeholders to better understand the benefits of returning the Registrar for Independent Schools, which moved to Education Scotland in 2015, to the Scottish Government and aim to reach a final decision on this aspect by the summer recess.

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