Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education

Report provided to Scottish Ministers by Professor Ken Muir on the replacement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, reform of Education Scotland and removal of its inspection function.

1. Foreword

Letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

Dear Cabinet Secretary,

In June 2021, I was commissioned by the Scottish Government to provide independent advice to you on aspects of education reform in Scotland. Specifically, this included 'designing the implementation of the recommendations for structural and functional change of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Education Scotland'[1] which arose from the report, Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)[2]. You also asked that I give consideration to establishing a new curriculum and assessment agency[3]. I am pleased to present my independent report arising from that commission for your consideration.

I would like to firstly express my appreciation for the positive and constructive response there has been by all with whom I have engaged on this reform work. I am particularly indebted to the extensive, open and informative engagements the leadership teams, staff and unions in SQA and Education Scotland have had with me over the period of my work.

I accepted this commission and entered into it with an open mind as to what my recommendations would be. At the outset, I was determined to seek views and ideas from as wide a range of groups and individuals as possible within the timescale available to me. Throughout, I have adopted an evidence-based approach listening to and triangulating the views and ideas of children and young people, headteachers, teachers, lecturers and other practitioners, parents and carers and a range of other interested stakeholders to help form my recommendations. I have also sought advice from respected researchers and those with relevant expertise in organisations throughout Scotland and beyond.

Given the complex and interconnected nature of the Scottish education system and the breadth of roles and functions currently carried out by both SQA and Education Scotland, it has been necessary to engage widely with a broad spectrum of practitioners and stakeholders who, in varying degrees, are likely to be impacted by the replacement of the SQA, the removal of inspection from Education Scotland and changes to that agency's roles and functions.

The outcomes from these extensive engagements, the excellent returns from the two consultations carried out, and the experience of Expert Panel members and leading specialists and researchers have provided a strong foundation of evidence on which to base my conclusions and recommendations.

My recommendations take into account and align with wider areas of policy and the Scottish Government's priorities for children and families in Scotland. They are designed to build upon the many strengths that exist within Scottish education while supporting key priorities around closing the poverty-related attainment gap, child poverty, reducing youth unemployment, the national work on Race Equality and Anti-Racist Education Programme (REAREP)[4] and achieving equity and excellence through education. They are also based on an understanding that the incorporation into Scots law of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a game changer when it comes to how we view and provide the educational experiences for children and young people.

Fundamentally, my recommendations place children, young people and those teachers and practitioners who support their learning more firmly at the heart of the education system. Unashamedly, they place them and their interests ahead of those organisations that make up the educational infrastructure. The recommendations aim to establish a revised infrastructure that begins to simplify the landscape and ensures all teachers and practitioners have greater clarity as to the roles and functions of key national bodies. The recommendations also set out the means by which teachers and practitioners can be more assured of accessing the bespoke support they need in the challenging job they have in supporting all learners. As a consequence, the recommendations are designed, ultimately, to enhance the quality of learning and teaching and the achievements and outcomes for all learners and ensure the rights of the child are respected and honoured across our education system.

Critically, the recommendations offer initial steps in creating a more coherent landscape that inspires public trust and confidence in our education and examination system. They also provide a means by which the school curriculum; assessment; approaches to learning and teaching; examinations and qualifications can remain responsive and relevant in the context of constant and significant change, through meaningful engagement with all stakeholders including those professionals who are most closely engaged in the learning and teaching process. Finally, my recommendations provoke questions for all who have a stake in Scottish education of the cultural and mindset shifts required to support this fluid and dynamic system.

You encouraged me at the outset to be 'bold and radical' in my report. I believe it does both while also providing the stability required over the short to medium-term to minimise risk to learning. It offers what I believe is a clear, creative and pragmatic way forward for Scottish education that builds on its current successes, provides real opportunities for all learners, better supports teachers and practitioners, and re-establishes Scotland's world-leading education credentials.

Yours sincerely

Professor Kenneth Muir
University of the West of Scotland
Independent Advisor to Scottish Government


This report was commissioned by Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and I am indebted to her for initiating the review and for respecting my independence throughout the process.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to those individuals who represented their organisations as members on the 50+ strong Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group (PSAG). The expertise and lived experiences they and their networks brought to my work were of immense value in bringing 'real life' evidence and constructive suggestions to my deliberations.

I am indebted to all those who gave up their time to take part in the extensive range of meetings and webinars over the last six months, including the many parents and carers, and representatives from professional associations, local and national government and national and international organisations with whom I engaged. I would also like to thank the large number of individuals, groups and organisations that completed the public consultation. The valued and constructive contributions made by all of the above have influenced greatly my thinking in writing this report.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Children's Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights) who organised and carried out the consultation engagements with children and young people from across Scotland. A special 'thank you' is due to the large number of children and young people who engaged in the extensive facilitated discussions and online survey prepared by those three organisations. An equally special 'thank you' is due to those learners who took time away from classes and lectures to engage directly with me. The combined experiences and suggestions made by these learners have proved to be invaluable in informing my recommendations. Learners, supported by teachers and practitioners, should lie at the centre of all we do in Scottish education, hence the title of my report. Education is for them, and those that come after them, and it is they who must benefit from my recommendations and what might lie ahead by way of any further reform.

At a time of significant change and reform to their organisations, I have greatly appreciated the positive and supportive manner in which Gayle Gorman, Chief Executive of Education Scotland and Fiona Robertson, Chief Executive of the SQA, together with their senior teams and staff, have engaged with me throughout the last six months. I recognise the concerns and anxieties they have shared with me about the future of their organisations and the uncertainties the reform process has created for them.

I am grateful to Wellside Research Ltd for their assistance in analysing the extensive number of public consultation returns and to officials in national and local government who responded to requests for information and advice.

I am particularly indebted to members of the Expert Panel for sharing their expertise with me and for their insightful advice and feedback at key stages in the process.

Special thanks go to the members of the independent secretariat who have given me unstinting support over the six months of my commission.

All of those mentioned have been invaluable in the development of this report but I bear sole responsibility for its content.

Professor Kenneth Muir
University of the West of Scotland
Independent Advisor to Scottish Government


Email: EducationReform@gov.scot

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