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.

4. Methodology

General approach

I was appointed in June 2021 and began work at the start of August. My terms of reference as Advisor are set out in Appendix C.

On taking up my post and to assist me with my work, I identified eight individuals to form a small Expert Panel(EP). Their role was to provide me with specialist expertise, advice and support and help ensure that full consideration was given to all aspects of my remit and the wider themes and recommendations set out in the OECD report.

The EP was not designed to be representative of practitioners and stakeholders in the education system. Panel members were invited on the basis of the well-recognised expertise they held in areas such as assessment and qualifications; educational governance; learner voice; anti-racist pedagogy, equality and diversity; and their national and international experience and expertise on educational reform and organisational change. The EP also included a co-author of the OECD report and a Scottish secondary head teacher. The EP met on a total of six occasions between September 2021 and January 2022.

I also set up a Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group (PSAG). This comprised individuals from a wide range of organisations which it was felt would be impacted on, either directly or indirectly, by the Cabinet Secretary's decision to replace SQA and reform Education Scotland. Initially, approximately 40 organisations were invited to join PSAG although this increased to over 50 during the period of my work as additional organisations identified themselves as being impacted by my remit.

PSAG provided a forum whereby I could gain direct access and expertise to practitioners and other stakeholders who engaged with SQA and Education Scotland. Between September and early December I conducted a total of 87 one‑to‑one meetings with each individual member of PSAG and with non-PSAG members who wished to share their views and ideas with me.

At two initial half-day meetings in September 2021, I asked all PSAG members to engage with their formal and informal networks in order that as wide a range of views and experiences of working with SQA and Education Scotland could be obtained. They were also asked to engage with their wider organisation and its networks on the questions laid out in the public consultation and to bring any issues and ideas they wanted to my attention. The outcomes of these wider engagements were shared with me at ten PSAG sub-group meetings held in mid-November and at a full meeting of all PSAG members at the end of November. Their feedback provided a rich source of views and ideas which helped to inform the recommendations made in this report.

As the two national bodies most impacted by the Cabinet Secretary's decision, I gave a commitment at the outset to prioritise engagement with SQA and Education Scotland. I engaged in a total of 28 meetings either directly with SQA or at which SQA was present and 25 with Education Scotland. These engagements comprised PSAG meetings, meetings with senior staff, all staff meetings and meetings with individuals and teams. They also included a number of meetings with union officials representing staff in both organisations. At some of those meetings, SQA and Education Scotland were invited to offer their own views and ideas on the potential outcomes of my work.

Both the EP and PSAG groups were chaired by me. The terms of reference for both the EP and PSAG can be found in Appendix D and Appendix E.


Five webinars were held over September and October 2021, one of which was focused solely on engaging with parents and carers of children and young people in the education system. Over 2,000 practitioners and stakeholders from a range of diverse cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds had their views and ideas listened to during these webinars. Practitioners shared their experiences of working with SQA and Education Scotland and offered their views on how Scottish education might be reformed to the advantages of our diverse range of current and future learners.

Public consultation

A public consultation was opened for an eight-week period, from 30 September to 26 November 2021[18]. This invited responses to a consultation document via the Scottish Government's consultation portal, Citizen Space, as well as offering the opportunity to submit feedback via email. The results of this consultation were analysed independently by Wellside Research Ltd, see Appendix B. A combined total of 764 responses were received. In addition, notes from 87 meetings and webinars were also analysed as part of the independent analysis.

The responses from the public consultation reflected the strong feedback I received from early engagements with practitioners and stakeholders. While focusing largely on how best to achieve the replacement of SQA and the reform of Education Scotland and the implications arising, it was clear from many that this was an appropriate opportunity to explore some wider reforms that would enhance the quality of Scottish education and outcomes for current and future learners.

Children and young people consultation

A particular concern noted in the OECD report was the difficulty in Scottish education systematically take into account the views of stakeholders, and particularly the voices and perspectives of learners, on curriculum reform and recognise those voices in decision making. In recognition of this issue, I asked the Children's Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights) to design a toolkit that would allow primary school age children and those aged 12-18 to engage in discussion about their current experiences of school and their learning, and the kinds of reform they wished to see in their education system. Bespoke, online and downloadable toolkits provided adults with the means to facilitate discussions with both groups of children and young people from across Scotland. In addition, an online consultation survey was prepared for 12-18 year-old young people to complete.

Using the extensive networks of the three bodies and their ability to readily access the views of children and young people, 1,210 primary school aged children engaged with the online or downloadable toolkits, and took part in conversations facilitated by adults known to them. This included 53 members of Children's Parliament. 394 secondary school-aged children and young people engaged with the toolkit designed for them, again facilitated by an adult known to them. This included 25 members of the Scottish Youth Parliament's Learner Panel. A total of 3,889 12 to 18-year-olds responded to the online survey.

A summary of the outcomes from these engagements and consultations with children and young people by Children's Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Together (Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights) has been provided separately and will be published at the same time as this report. As their report shows, some of the perspectives and insights of the children and young people who responded go well beyond my remit. Nonetheless, they offer critically important insights and perspectives into their lived experiences as learners which command the attention and reflection of all who are involved in Scottish education. Often, their responses ask profound questions of the culture that exists in some parts of the system. The report also includes the important reminder that education may develop personality, talents and abilities of children and young people, but what happens at home and in the community has an important role too and, in some cases, is more likely to impact and support the child to develop these to their fullest potential.


The many meetings, webinars, consultation responses and other submitted papers have provided a wealth of information and a wide range of views both on what is working well and also what now needs to change. I have also accessed practice in other national and international jurisdictions and received expert advice from leaders in those areas. My recommendations are largely based on the totality of these findings in combination with my own professional view. Throughout the report I have used individual quotes where appropriate to illustrate key messages emerging from my engagements and discussions. I have been encouraged greatly by the level of interest in this piece of work and in Scottish education more generally and would hope that any subsequent public discussion on education reform in Scotland is also engaged with in a similar fashion.

The wider findings have also provided valuable insights and suggestions from learners, teachers and other practitioners specifically on their experiences on engaging with SQA on National Qualifications (NQs) over recent years. I have also listened carefully to the views and opinions of SQA and Education Scotland staff. Where appropriate, this information will be shared with Professor Louise Hayward as she takes forward her planned work on the review of NQs.



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