Scotland’s exams agency and its schools inspections system are to be substantially reformed after a damning report said the current system was cumbersome and over-complex.
An independent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based agency, found the Scottish education system had failed to keep pace with the latest best practice and had no long-term strategies or vision.
Its publication follows a long battle between Scottish ministers and opposition parties, who had accused the devolved government of withholding the report because of its highly critical conclusions, a charge ministers denied.
The OECD report on Scotland’s policy, known as curriculum for excellence (CfE), found: the exams system for older pupils was not consistent with CfE’s underlying ethos; there was a lack of robust data for assessing school performance; that teachers spent too long teaching and not enough time developing lessons; and there was no clear leadership on curriculum development.
Beatriz Pont, from the OECD’s education directorates, said: “The system is really busy, and at risk of policy and institutional overload, and reactive and political approaches to CfE in the absence of an identified cycle of policy review.”
She added the system had “too many owners, while lacking clarity about their responsibilities. [CfE] is just moving forward and [has] no structured approach to look forward, plan and communicate CfE’s development with a long-term perspective”.
Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish government’s education secretary, said she accepted all 12 of the OECD’s recommendations, which follow years of mounting criticism about the Scottish National party’s handling of education.
The recommendations included scrapping the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which presided over last year’s exams grading debacle, and replacing it with a new agency, and stripping Education Scotland, another quango, of carrying out school inspections. Instead, in line with the OECD’s proposals, the Scottish government could set up an independent inspections agency.
The exams and qualifications system could also be changed: the OECD suggested the multitiered qualifications system could be streamlined and more tightly focused.
“The OECD report is crystal clear – curriculum for excellence is the right approach for Scotland,” Somerville said.
“Despite all the criticism here at home, the OECD tells us it is viewed internationally as an inspiring example of curriculum practice. However, 10 years on from CfE being introduced, it is right and proper that we review how it is being implemented.”
The OECD said CfE, which was first proposed by the then Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition government in Edinburgh in 2004, had been a world-leading policy when it came into force under the SNP in 2010.
Since then, its development had failed to keep pace with new approaches, the OECD said. And while attainment for pupils from poorer areas had improved, with 95% of all school leavers moving to “positive destinations”, its performance in maths and sciences had stagnated between 2009 and 2015 and failed to improve since then.
Michael Marra, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “Today’s report has made it clear that Scotland’s education system is in urgent need of reform and resources.
“Parents, pupils and the many critics of the government’s performance on education policy over many years now see their own words and concerns validated by much of this report.”
Ross Greer, for the Scottish Greens, said: “This report is a damning judgment of Scotland’s exams system and the body which oversees it, so the news that the SQA is effectively being abolished is certainly welcome.
“It’s a failure of government that the exams system was left largely untouched when the new curriculum was introduced a decade ago. As a result, completely unnecessary barriers have been put in the way of hundreds of thousands of pupils.”