Scottish education: OECD study proposes exams overhaul

Scotland’s schooling system is facing a significant overhaul following publication of research that proposes a greater role for approaches such as teacher assessment, online exams and oral presentations.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said “full consideration” would be given to the paper from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It comes after the same organisation published a wide-ranging report on Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) that urged Scotland to consider reforming what had been branded “19th century” arrangements for testing and examination.

Ms Somerville has already said the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) will be replaced. Ministers are also preparing to break up standards body Education Scotland, with inspection activity due to be split off and made independent.

The latest OECD paper was written by Professor Gordon Stobart, Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford University. His work was informed by a consideration of how other countries run pupil assessment systems.

READ MORE: Scotland should reform ’19th century’ pupil assessments

Among the possible options it sets out are:

  • development of a senior phase (S4-6) qualification system based on a combination of teacher assessment and exams 
  • simplification of S4-5 assessment by “de-cluttering” the historical diet of exams 
  • the increased use of online exam resources and oral presentations 
  • inclusion of pupil views in decisions around assessment 
  • enhancing the role of vocational qualifications.

Ministers have said a formal exams diet will be held next year if it is safe to so do. Tests were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of the effects of Covid-19.

Ms Somerville said: “The OECD have been crystal clear – CfE is the right approach for Scotland and is viewed internationally as an inspiring example of curriculum practice. Throughout the pandemic it delivered credible results for our children and young people in the face of exceptional circumstances.

HeraldScotland: Shirley-Anne Somerville has welcomed publication of the OECD report.Shirley-Anne Somerville has welcomed publication of the OECD report.

“Our decision to cancel exams as a result of the pandemic rightly sparked a great deal of discussion about the best way to recognise learners’ achievements and how we continue to meet their needs. That is why we asked the OECD to undertake this vital work and I welcome this important contribution from Professor Stobart, which is informed by how other countries run an assessment process.

“Working with teachers, parents and young people as well as other stakeholders we will give full consideration to the options that Professor Stobart has outlined. This will form part of our work to ensure that every part of our education system is designed so that young people can demonstrate their full potential.”

She added: “I will update Parliament on how this work will be taken forward and on the on-going implementation of OECD recommendations on Curriculum for Excellence in due course.”

READ MORE: SQA to be replaced as part of wide-sweeping reforms

Fiona Robertson, SQA Chief Executive, welcomed the OECD report. 

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on learning and teaching and the way young people are assessed,” she said. 

“Today’s paper is a welcome contribution to the debate about the future of assessment in Scotland. SQA is well placed to play a leading part in that debate, as its successor will be.

“Whatever reform intentions emerge over the coming months, it is in everyone’s interests to commit to maintaining the high national standards in the short and long term that have long been the hallmark of Scotland’s qualifications. 

HeraldScotland: SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.SQA Chief Executive Fiona Robertson.

“In the meantime, SQA will continue to serve Scotland’s learners, including the delivery of exams next year – should it be safe to do so – as part of the established and agreed assessment approach.

“The pandemic has shone a spotlight on learning and teaching and the way young people are assessed. Today’s paper is a welcome contribution to the debate about the future of assessment in Scotland. SQA is well placed to play a leading part in that debate, as its successor will be.”

She added: “Whatever reform intentions emerge over the coming months, it is in everyone’s interests to commit to maintaining the high national standards in the short and long term that have long been the hallmark of Scotland’s qualifications.

“In the meantime, SQA will continue to serve Scotland’s learners, including the delivery of exams next year – should it be safe to do so – as part of the established and agreed assessment approach.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992