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.

3. Introduction

The OECD published its report, Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future, on 21 June 2021.

This report followed an invitation from the then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills in 2020 for the OECD to assess the progress made in implementing CfE in primary and secondary schools since 2015 and to understand how school curricula in Scotland have been designed and implemented in recent years. In its report, the OECD recognises that Scotland's CfE was among the pioneers of 21st century learning and that it continues to offer a vision and a philosophy of education widely supported and worth pursuing. However, it also points out that Scotland needs to adopt a more structured and strategic approach to curriculum review and implementation, and enhance the coherence of the policy environment that surrounds CfE.

The report sets out 12 recommendations and a number of actions that should be taken to strengthen CfE and tackle its ongoing implementation challenges as part of a structured approach to the future of CfE.

OECD Recommendations

1.1. Re-assess CfE's aspirational vision against emerging trends in education

1.2. Find a better balance between breadth and depth of learning throughout CfE

1.3. Adapt the Senior Phase to match the vision of CfE

1.4. Continue building curricular capacity at various levels of the system using research

2.1. Ensure stable, purposeful and impactful stakeholder involvement with CfE

2.2. Revise the division of responsibilities for CfE

2.3. Structure a coherent communication strategy to support developments of CfE

3.1. Provide dedicated time to lead, plan and support CfE at the school level

3.2. Simplify policies and institutions for clarity and coherence

3.3. Align curriculum, qualifications and system evaluation to deliver on the commitment of Building the Curriculum 5

3.4. Develop a systematic approach to curriculum review

4.1. Adopt a structured and long-term approach to implementation.

In the Scottish Government's response to the OECD report, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills on 22 June 2021 accepted all 12 recommendations in full and set out how the Scottish Government would take them forward. As an initial response, the Cabinet Secretary announced the intention to replace SQA, Scotland's awarding and accreditation body, and consider a new specialist agency for both curriculum and assessment. The Cabinet Secretary also announced the reform of Education Scotland, the agency charged with supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education, including removing the function of inspection from the agency. The Scottish Government published an implementation framework for the OECD recommendations on 27 October 2021.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills commissioned independent advice on the OECD's recommendations for structural and functional change to SQA and Education Scotland, including the delivery of the national curriculum, assessment, qualification and inspection functions, recognising the wider functions of both these bodies. I started this work in August 2021 and have considered the proposal and resultant implications of establishing a new, specialist agency responsible for both curriculum and assessment. This report represents the culmination of this piece of work.

In considering this commission which focused on two major national bodies in Scottish education, it was apparent to me that the scope and functions of both bodies extended across a much wider sphere of influence than CfE and the school sector which were at the centre of the OECD's report. This resulted in the necessity to engage with a wide range of individuals and organisations across all parts of the Scottish education system. Many of these organisations and individuals with whom I have spoken were not directly within the school sector, but are likely to be impacted by the Scottish Government's decisions to replace SQA and reform Education Scotland.

These engagements variously involved meetings, interviews and webinars over a three-month period with children and young people; students in further and higher education; parents and carers; practitioners and leaders in schools, colleges and universities; staff in local and national government; members in education governance groups; and representatives from professional associations, national bodies, business and industry and equality and human rights organisations. A particular priority was given to engaging with staff and their trade union representatives in SQA and Education Scotland. A full list of those engagements carried out are shown in Appendix A. As a consequence of those engagements, a number of wider implications for Scottish education have been identified. Some of these relate to examinations and approaches to assessment and the feedback on these topics will usefully inform Professor Louise Hayward's forthcoming work focused on the planned reform of National Qualifications.

Two consultations provided additional evidence and views on the OECD's recommendations. The first was a public consultation, a summary of which is shown in Appendix B, which saw 764 returns from individuals, groups and organisations. These, alongside an additional 87 meeting notes were analysed independently by Wellside Research Ltd. The second, created and run by the Children's Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights), elicited responses from 3,889 12 to 18 year-olds to an online survey, while 1,210 primary school age children and 394 secondary school age children and young people took part in facilitated discussions.

In addition to examining a wide range of documentation provided by SQA and Education Scotland, I have also taken the opportunity to consider research findings and examples of practice in support and improvement, curriculum, approaches to assessment and examinations from across the world. This information has helped to inform the recommendations made in this report.

This report first of all considers the current context pertaining to Scottish education and reflects on why changes are needed. Building on the strengths already in the system, it identifies key principles that support a compelling vision for the future of Scottish education.

Sections 6 to 10 consider how those features of the system relating to curriculum, assessment, examination, support and improvement and inspection might best be reconfigured to promote and enhance excellence and equity, and ensure a high quality education system for the current and future generation of learners. Given the strength of feeling expressed by many who engaged with me, my report sets out in section 11 a number of wider implications for both Scottish education and wider public services.

Throughout the report I have included comments made, particularly by children and young people, to reflect the key messages I have heard.

SQA and Education Scotland play important roles within the complex and highly interrelated infrastructure that exists in Scottish education. The announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills to replace SQA and reform Education Scotland, together with my recommendations, will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the professionals in both organisations and in other bodies. It will be important that changes and reforms made are carried out in a well-managed and empathetic manner that recognise the commitment and expertise of staff in both organisations, ensure continuity of function and minimise disruption for both learners and those teachers and practitioners who support them.



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