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.

Appendix B: Public consultation analysis: Summary prepared by Wellside Research Ltd

Summary of findings


Following the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) independent review into Scotland's school curriculum[59] the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills announced the intention to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and consider a new specialist agency for both curriculum and assessment. The reform of Education Scotland was also announced, with the removal of the function of inspection from the agency[60]. This report outlines the findings from a public consultation, which sought views on these reforms, and will support the independent Advisor to prepare his report and recommendations.

In total, 851 responses were received to the consultation. This consisted of:

  • 690 responses to the main consultation document or set questions;
  • 74 responses submitted by email which did not follow the consultation questions set; and
  • notes from 87 meetings and webinars[61].

It should be noted, however, that many of the meetings and webinars involved multiple contributors, and a number of consultation responses represented groups of contributors and/or wider consultation with members or stakeholder groups. Therefore, the true number of people who provided feedback to the consultation can be assumed to be higher than the numbers outlined.

Key Findings

Levels of agreement were sought across a range of statements. Table 1 below outlines the percentage of responses to the public consultation:

Question/Statement: % who agreed*

Q1.1 The vision for Curriculum for Excellence reflects what matters for the education of children and young people in Scotland: 58%

Q2.1 Curriculum for Excellence provides a coherent progression in the journey of learners (3-18 and beyond) that gives them the best possible educational experience and enables them to realise their ambitions: 22%

Q3.1 In practice, learning communities are empowered and use the autonomy provided by Curriculum for Excellence to design a curriculum that meets the needs of their learners: 31%

Q4.1 The creation of a Curriculum and Assessment Agency will help to address the misalignment of curriculum and assessment as outlined in the OECD report: 39%

Q5.1 The full breadth of existing SQA qualifications play an important part of the curriculum offered by secondary schools: 51%

Q6.1 Technologies are fully and appropriately utilised as a support for curriculum and assessments: 18%

Q8.1 There is clarity on where the responsibilities for the strategic direction, review and updates for Curriculum for Excellence lie: 11%

Q9.1 There is clarity on the roles played by national agencies and other providers for responding to needs for support with curriculum and assessment issues: 9%

Q10.1 There is clarity on where high quality support for leadership and professional learning can be accessed to support practitioners: 26%

Q11.1 There is sufficient trust with all stakeholders, including children, young people, parents & carers, so they are genuinely involved in decision making: 15%

Q12.1 Independent inspection has an important role to play in scrutiny and evaluation, enhancing improvement and building capacity: 61%

*Based on the 690 respondents who answered the set questions, and either 'strongly agreed' or 'agreed'.

Overall, respondents supported the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and the four capacities[62]. While it was felt that this worked well at the Broad General Education (BGE) level, it was stressed that CfE does not transfer into the Senior Phase where teaching was considered to be constrained by a need to focus on examination preparation. Indeed, many respondents felt that reform of the Senior Phase was required in order to provide a better balance between achieving academic qualifications and recognising other achievements, as well as to provide parity of esteem between academic and vocational routes.

It was also stressed that the educational landscape in Scotland was cluttered, with too many organisations at national, regional and local levels which appeared to overlap or duplicate each other in terms of their roles and responsibilities. It was felt this resulted in a lack of clarity in relation to where the responsibilities for the strategic direction, review and updates for CfE lie. It also made it difficult for teachers/practitioners to know what support, resources, and professional learning opportunities were available, and where and how to access these. Further, it was suggested that teachers/practitioners were often unsure about the veracity and quality of resources, and they did not have the time to research each offering themselves. Some indicated that they now relied on local networks and other teachers/practitioners rather than external bodies for support.

Respondents were generally supportive of the four reform proposals, i.e. to remove the inspection function from Education Scotland, further reform of Education Scotland, to replace SQA (although many felt this should be reformed), and to consider the creation of a new Curriculum and Assessment Agency.

It was felt that the inspection function should be moved to a separate agency, which was independent of both Scottish Government and any other education/policy setting agency in order to be fully impartial. It was also stressed that the language and focus of inspections needed to change – moving away from a focus on 'scrutiny' and towards 'improvement'.

Further reforms were suggested for Education Scotland, both to set out clear information about its remit, and that it could be developed into an agency to support curricular change and development, along with developing and supporting teaching and learning pedagogy. However, several questioned the purpose of Education Scotland without the inspection function as they felt all other aspects of its work would duplicate other agencies.

There were mixed views regarding whether the SQA should be replaced or reformed, although most respondents agreed some form of change was required. It was felt this was an opportunity to consider and reform the end of year examination structure. Several respondents also stressed that any changes to, or removal of the SQA would, however, need to be mindful of the impact of the college sector and not simply consider the issues from a school-based perspective.

The creation of a Curriculum and Assessment Agency was largely considered to be an opportunity to realign the BGE and Senior Phase, and to allow more focus on pedagogy throughout the various stages. However, several did express a fear that this could result in lower importance being placed on assessments and thus impact adversely on university applications. Many stressed that the roles and responsibilities of any new agency would need to be clearly set out and communicated, along with its relationship to other available agencies, and that it would be important to avoid duplication with those other agencies (although it was felt that such clarity was necessary for all agencies across the sector).

Throughout the consultation, it was suggested that those with current/recent experience of teaching should be involved in developing, informing and indeed staffing both the inspection agency and any new Curriculum and Assessment Agency. Secondment models were suggested as one method to achieve this.

Several also stressed that other educational sectors needed to be considered and included throughout. This included early learning and childcare (ELC), Gaelic Medium Education (GME), the Catholic education service, college and university settings, youth work and community education, all of whom noted that they often felt like 'add-ons' rather than fully integrated and supported parts of the Scottish education system.

In terms of timescales, across all the proposed reforms, many felt that time should be allocated as required to fully consider any changes and make these effectively. It was suggested there were significant risks in rushing through any changes for 'political expediency'. Where timescales were specified, it was typically suggested that a five year window would be required. It was stressed, however, that careful management and messaging in relation to the current system would be needed in the interim.

While acknowledging the opportunities, some respondents also expressed concerns that the proposed reforms could end up consisting of system changes which simply rebrand the current system rather than providing any meaningful culture change. It was stressed that those designing the reforms and any agencies involved would need to be receptive to feedback, and that clear communication would be required going forward to ensure that all stakeholders are informed and engaged.

Ultimately, many respondents called for wider reforms of the education sector along with ongoing consultation throughout the design and implementation process. There was strong support for a 'bottom-up' approach, with both teacher/practitioner and learner involvement, for teachers/practitioners to be genuinely empowered within and by the reforms, and for all changes to be learner focused in order to improve the learner journey for all pupils/students and to provide multiple learner pathways. Furthermore, it was considered important to ensure that all stakeholders across all sectors were engaged in the reforms.



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