Scrapping exams at 16 ‘will help modernise Scottish schools’

Removing exams for 16-year-olds would help modernise pupil assessment processes and better align them with the “pioneering” aims of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), a major study suggests.

The paper from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said replacing National 5 tests with a graduation certificate or diploma may enable the end of compulsory schooling to be marked in a way that declutters arrangements in S4-6.

It argues that such a system could offer a broader record of individual attainment than currently provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

“Scotland’s system sits within the British tradition, which had its origins in the Victorian enthusiasm for written academic examinations,” the reports says.

READ MORE: OECD study proposes exams overhaul

“One legacy feature of this is the diet of central examinations at 16, even when few students now leave education at that age, and something no longer seen in most other assessment systems.”

Written by Gordon Stobart, Emeritus Professor of Education at University College London and Honorary Research Fellow in the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, the paper also proposes a raft of reforms and innovations that would mark a decisive departure from timed, pen-and-paper tests.

These include increased use of information technology to provide online oral presentations and practicals, incorporation of e-portfolio and personal projects for external marking, and an expanded role for oral presentations and practicals.

The report warns that the introduction of National Qualifications has “done little to move away from the dominance of examination preparation, with its emphasis on memory and past paper drills, which leads to more didactic secondary school teaching”. It also argues that greater focus on elements such as continuous teacher assessment would more effectively support 21st century curriculum reform and boost resilience in the event of major disruption.

HeraldScotland: Shirley-Anne Somerville said "full consideration" would be given to options outlined in the OECD paper.Shirley-Anne Somerville said “full consideration” would be given to options outlined in the OECD paper.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has welcomed the report, which follows another OECD study published earlier this year that looked at CfE.

“Our decision to cancel exams as a result of the pandemic rightly sparked a great deal of discussion about the best way to recognise examination resources, incorporation of e-portfolio and personal projects for external marking, and an expanded role for learners’ achievements and how we continue to meet their needs,” she said.

“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.”

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

Andrea Bradley, Assistant Secretary (Education and Equality) at the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, also welcomed the paper. However, she added: “Whilst the report prompts welcome consideration around broadening the range of assessment opportunities, an enhanced role for continuous assessment, teacher professional judgement and moderation, and the retention of some external marking, the encouragement of the use of more digital based assessment would need very careful consideration, particularly regarding equity in relation to young people’s digital access and digital literacy.”

Scottish Conservative Oliver Mundell said he did not support scrapping exams.

“After 14 years of botched SNP reforms, externally assessed exams are one of the last remaining hallmarks of our once world-leading education system,” he added. “No government serious about raising standards would even contemplate getting rid of them.”

Fiona Robertson, SQA Chief Executive, 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.” 

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