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.

11. Wider implications and further considerations for reform

Several features of the current Scottish education system emerged regularly during my discussions and engagements. In replacing the SQA and reforming Education Scotland I feel it is important to also consider the implications of change in respect of a wider range of interests. These are set out below.

Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership

The SCQF Partnership is an independent, non-biased company limited by guarantee and a Scottish Registered Charity. This small organisation works with a wide range of awarding bodies, professional bodies and other programme owners to ensure a variety of different types of learning (formal, informal and non-formal) is credit rated and recognised on its Framework. The SCQF Partnership plays an important role in ensuring[53] parity of esteem of all learning pathways and ensuring the Framework is truly learner centred.

The SCQF Partnership ensures that, where appropriate, all assessed learning and qualifications in Scotland are included on its Framework which it promotes as a lifelong learning tool. The SCQF Partnership has a strong reputation within Scottish education. It is also well recognised and regarded within the European Union and worldwide where it has access to many international education networks and resources.

The SCQF Partnership carries out the following wide range of functions.

  • The approval of new Credit Rating Bodies for the SCQF.
  • The quality assurance of a range of Credit Rating Bodies across the UK in relation to their SCQF credit rating activity.
  • The support, monitoring and review of Scotland's colleges' credit-rating activities.
  • Providing extensive and tailored support for existing Credit Rating Bodies on developing and maintaining processes for SCQF credit rating.
  • Offering non-biased, independent, expert advice to programme owners on the credit rating process including information on potential Credit Rating Bodies in Scotland.
  • Running a wide range of workshops supporting programme owners, credit rating bodies and those who wish to adopt Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) principles.
  • Supporting employers in embedding the SCQF into their workforce development strategies.
  • Promoting and raising awareness of the benefits of the SCQF across all sectors both nationally and internationally.

Credit rating by the SCQF Partnership is a mechanism for organisations, large or small, to formally have SCQF levels and credit points allocated to their learning programmes and have that learning placed on Scotland's national qualifications framework. Any organisation wishing to formally acknowledge their in‑house training or informal training sessions can engage with this credit rating process.

SCQF Partnership's report, Review of SCQF Credit Rating Activity, by Brian Keegan (April 2016) set out the following range of benefits associated with credit rating.

  • Learning programmes will be recognised across the UK and Europe.
  • Learners receive formal recognition for the learning they have undertaken.
  • Learners are supported to develop skills in their career or learning pathways.
  • Learners will understand the level of the learning they have achieved which will help to improve confidence and self-esteem.
  • An organisation's learning programmes can be readily compared to nationally recognised qualifications.
  • Assists with improved employee engagement and offers added value to in-house training and CPD programmes.

The SCQF Partnership in its consultation return signalled the important role that the SCQF Partnership makes to Scottish education and how that role can be enhanced to address some of the issues identified in the OECD report.

"Much has been said about the need for a whole system view of coherence, and strategic use of the SCQF provides one aspect of that coherence, supporting and underpinning the development of curriculum, but also of pathways and routes through institutions, employment and the community. In order to fully deliver on CfE aspirations we need to ensure fewer wrong turns, dead ends and repeats for learners – ensuring credit is given for learning already achieved is fundamental to this and the SCQF provides us with the ability to have a quality assured measurement of that."

The value of the SCQF Partnership was something that was shared regularly with me in discussions and engagements. The Partnership is held in high regard both nationally and internationally. In particular, it was felt that SCQF has the potential to play an enhanced role in Scottish education to support all learners progress seamlessly on their learning journeys, recognising and valuing different types of learning (formal, informal and non-formal) and ensuring greater parity of esteem across qualifications and awards. RPL, where recognition and value is given to formal and informal learning no matter where that has taken place, can help all learners to identify transferable skills and learning achieved and plan next steps in learning. The considerable credit rating skills of the SCQF Partnership staff, together with their expertise in RPL, will complement those of staff in SQA's Accreditation Directorate, further enhancing coherence for the wider education system.

"Any new agency needs to listen to SCQF. SCQF are doing some of this work already. Valuing broader range of awards."

(Member organisation of PSAG)

"Increase use of SCQF – this worked really well when I was headteacher – different approaches to assessment & progression pathways to FE and HE."

(Secondary School, senior leader)

"Better use of existing SCQF – increasing understanding with teachers, parents, employers – all partners."

(Secondary School, senior leader)

"We would welcome greater visibility of SCQF in the system – opening up opportunities across the system to use qualifications from a wide range of qualification and awarding bodies linked to the SCQF. Working with regional colleges to develop and deliver awards pertinent to the local economy and labour market intelligence – all SCQF rated."

(Local Authorities/Local Government)

I concur with the view that the SCQF has the potential to play an important role in providing greater coherence between curriculum and assessment, and in planning the lifelong journey of all learners.

Bringing the SCQF Partnership into the proposed national agency for Scottish education provides a further opportunity for streamlining the number of bodies, clarifying the middle ground and creating greater coherence to the overall system. If this recommendation is accepted, I appreciate it will entail implications for the SCQF Partnership and its staff moving from a company limited by guarantee to what I am proposing is an executive agency.

Recommendation 17: The SCQF Partnership should be brought into the proposed national agency for Scottish education in order that it's Framework and staff can play an enhanced role in planning learner journeys and providing greater parity of esteem.


In a number of my engagements and discussions the Scottish Government online tool, Insight, was discussed. The role and use of Insight was seen as a much-valued tool to support improvement and it was also seen as having the potential for its role to be enhanced.

Insight is managed by the Scottish Government and has been developed as the core tool for understanding improvement and improvement planning in the Senior Phase. It is supported by a small team of Insight professional advisors. Learners from S4 to S6 who are on the pupil census at the start of the school year are included in Insight. As such, it plays an important role in the Senior Phase. The tool contains five years of pupil attainment, destinations and demographic data and employs a statistically-constructed 'virtual comparator' to provide an appropriate and fair benchmark for each school's performance along a number of dimensions.

Insight uses the SCQF to produce its tariff scores which are based on SCQF Credit Points and levels, the grade achieved and whether courses are graded or not. Its tariff scores recognise the value of all types of qualifications and learning programmes irrespective of assessment methodology, thus providing parity of esteem across all qualifications and learning programmes. Insight's grade neutral tariff treats graded and ungraded courses equally which recognise the equal value that ungraded and graded courses can play in a learner journey.

Insight's inclusion of awards from a wide range of non-SQA providers, in addition to SQA awards, was seen as being one of its positive features. However, some senior leaders and practitioners suggested that, while a useful tool, Insight helped to perpetuate a 'high stakes' attainment culture based mostly on NQs which ran counter to the desired direction of travel for Scottish education. They also commented that not all attainment is SCQF accredited and that attainment records cannot always be provided in time for inclusion on Insight.

I agree that further development of the Insight tool has the potential to support a much-needed cultural shift around attainment and achievement and what is valued by way of learner outcomes. In doing so, a revised Insight tool can play an enhanced role in providing parity of esteem across academic and non-academic qualifications and awards discussed earlier in this report.

The following developments would significantly enhance the role of the online tool.

  • Develop Insight to reflect a wider variety of attainment and achievement

Currently, all attainment included must be SCQF accredited. Insight could be used to develop a mechanism to reflect information about the achievements of learners that are not matched to SCQF levels. This would allow awards such as the Saltire and Duke of Edinburgh Awards to be included, providing evidence of impact of the broader curriculum offered and the achievement of broader activity undertaken within and outwith educational settings.

Such a development would also go some way towards progressing the Measurement recommendations contained in the Morgan report, Support for Learning: All our Children and All their Potential (June 2020)[54] one of which is:

'The value... and visibility of the diverse range of achievements, including in vocational learning, that are possible for all children and young people with additional support needs and reflect what they and their families feel are important for their (future) quality of life.'

(Morgan Report, page 22)

  • Develop Insight as the central tool that provides a coherent approach to improvement

Insight is currently a dynamic tool for understanding improvement used by schools, local authorities and some stakeholders. It could be further developed as an easily accessible reporting tool providing summary information for a wider range of users, for example HM Inspectors. This has the potential to bring efficiencies into the system and, importantly, would allow all parts of the system to use Insight as the single source for improvement and inspection activity. The benefits would be that all parts of the system would better understand their data and that being reported would better reflect the value of attainment and achievement as stated through SCQF levels.

  • Insight could develop beyond S4-S6

Insight could develop to capture the full secondary journey – reflecting the learner journey from the beginning of S1 to the end of S6, allowing a clear interrogation of added value. It could align with SDS sustained destinations data (currently just leavers' destinations data) to provide a means by which the journey of learners transitioning from S6 to sustained destinations could be more easily examined, understood and supported.

An enhanced Insight tool could also capture attainment and achievement data at key transition points in addition to Senior Phase data, providing important messages about added value and contributing to the coherence of CfE from BGE into the Senior Phase. This could provide a joined up approach, a common language of attainment and achievement and provide a tool that would allow the whole profession to better understand interventions that have an impact. For the purpose of providing increased coherence, consideration should be given as to whether the Insight tool should be placed within the proposed national agency for Scottish education.

Recommendation 18: The online tool Insight should be further developed in order that it can help drive change in Scottish education, and in particular, support the learner journey and enhance parity of esteem across academic and non-academic qualifications and awards. Consideration should be given as to whether the Insight tool and the Insight Professional Advisors should be placed within the proposed national agency for Scottish education.

SDS Career Service Review

SDS is Scotland's national skills body. It works with the Scottish Government and other public bodies to shape and implement strategies that drive Scotland's economic growth and social inclusion.

The Scottish Government's Young Person's Guarantee[55] ensures everyone between 16 and 24 in Scotland will have the opportunity to access support that will help them into fair employment including work experience, further or higher education, apprenticeships or other training programmes, formal volunteering or a supported activity programme.

To support this, SDS is currently carrying out a holistic review of careers services in Scotland[56]. This work on the future of career services is underpinned by the following principles.

  • Career services that meet the changing needs and aspirations of young people.
  • Career services that build agency and equip young people to navigate change.
  • Career services that help young people expand their experience of work.
  • Career experiences that are integrated into the curriculum to ensure a cohesive journey.

It was apparent from my engagements with many stakeholders, particularly senior leaders and practitioners in schools, that there was limited awareness of this important piece of work being carried out by SDS and the work of SDS more generally.

The Scottish Government's 15-24 Learner Journey Review (May 2018)[57] stressed the importance of ensuring all young people have access to the choices that are right for them by having the right balance and blend of learning options in the post-15 education and skills system. The OECD report, Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future: suggests that Scotland should consider creating guidance on how knowledge might focus on what is needed to progress to and succeed in the next level or phase of education.

My observation is that SDS's Career Service Review has the potential to make an important contribution in ensuring a fully aligned and coherent education and skills system that supports learners to make meaningful, seamless progress on their lifelong learning pathway. This will only be achieved if the work of SDS on the Career Service Review is shared widely and its outcomes are aligned with changes and developments arising from this report and what emerges from Professor Hayward's review of national qualifications.

Initial Teacher Education

In light of significant changes to education bodies proposed in this report, the Scottish Government's commitment to review curriculum, assessment and qualifications and the urgent need to better consider how the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law will impact on schools, it is critical that ITE providers make early adjustments to their teacher education programmes. The teacher education institutions offering such programmes should ensure that student teachers are well prepared for what amounts to a period of significant evolution in Scottish education. Such programmes should equip teachers with the necessary skills and expertise in developing their own assessments and conducting internal quality assurance.

Policies: Ongoing change and volume of policy

From the work in which I have engaged to produce this report I am aware that there are a number of policy developments underway or planned that impact on any revised vision for CfE and Scottish education. Together with CfE, Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) have been enshrined over the years as the three supporting pillars of the Scottish school education system, designed to promote both equity and excellence in order that children and young people can achieve and thrive. All three policies focus on improvement for learners and have been designed to align and support each other. All three are currently subject to change and I consider it to be important that they are considered alongside each other to support clear and consistent messaging for those responsible in translating policy into practice.

There are a wide range of other related policies and reports relevant to education that can appear as a complex and overwhelming picture to practitioners. Details of related policies can be found in Appendix G.

No-one doubts that all policies are well-meaning and designed to improve the lives of children and young people. However, in the public consultation, this volume and complexity of policy was regularly reported to me by practitioners and leaders in the school sector as being a significant factor in creating some of the confusion and lack of progress in bringing about improvement. Senior leaders in primary and secondary schools pointed to their day-to day lives being adversely impacted by having to take into account, respectively, 34 and 40 areas of policy. A strong plea from a wide range of respondents was for simplification of advice and guidance and better 'joined up thinking' and coherence in policy. Taking such steps would minimise the risk of multiple interpretations being applied to translating policy into practice and would reduce the pressure and workload on those involved in delivering those policies.

"A secondary school currently is influenced by and required to engage with and respond to the Scottish Government Learning Directorate, Education Scotland, GTCS, HMIe, SQA, RICs, local authorities, OECD, PISA and the International Council of Education Advisers, such atomisation impedes a truly empowered system."

(Group of Secondary Headteachers)

"Small local authorities have the same asks on them as a large local authority – all guidance, policies are the same – smaller local authorities are on their knees, and sometime don't have head space to go for help or the help isn't readily available."

(Local Authorities/Local Government)

"Policy landscape and constant asks on Local Authorities – so many policies, often all coming out of the same Scottish Government directorate as well as other directorates and it is all very disjointed. Local Authorities are then asked why is xyz, not working, or being implemented properly."

(Local Authorities/Local Government)

"There is an overload and fragmentation of policies nationally, that then often have to be interpreted at a local level."

(Secondary School, senior leader)

"An added challenge can be that policies sometimes straddle more than one service, such as education costs for Care Experience young people – education costs covered till age 16 and then responsibility moves to social work, resulting in a demarcation of responsibilities – should be working hand in glove."

(Local Authorities/Local Government)

This sense of policy fatigue is not new and it is crucial that the Scottish Government and the potential bodies recommended in previous chapters of this report work together to minimise the impact of change whilst also creating a more coherent policy landscape that is understood by all those that work in it.

It has also become clear to me in the process of this exercise that there are a large number of directorates and divisions in the Scottish Government with a direct and active interest in children and young people and the factors impacting on their learning. While all involved are seeking to improve the lives of learners their families and communities, the linkages between teams and allied policies do not appear to be as strong as they should be. I appreciate I am not the first commentator to make this observation but at a time where the number of key policies relating to children and young people are so large and subject to change, it seems more important than ever that there is closer alignment of policy.

I was pleased to attend an early meeting of the Scottish Government programme board considering education reform whose membership includes representatives from across the Scottish Government. I consider it very important that this kind of forum is used constructively to ensure improved alignment and communication of policy for those charged with its implementation. My recommendation that elements of the Curriculum, Qualifications and Gaelic Division in the Scottish Government are integrated into the proposed new national agency for Scottish education is designed as an important structural step in bringing discussion on policy formulation much closer to those enacting it.

Recommendation 19: Scottish Government and other national bodies should collaborate more effectively to ensure that policies align well with each other and with any revised vision for Scottish education. Arrangements should be put in place that allow for the active monitoring of the volume of policy expectations on local authorities, schools and senior leaders to ensure that these are realistic, manageable and well understood.



Back to top