Analysis: Anything but the SQA's total abolition is likely to fail students

Scotland finds itself once again in the midst of an exams scandal as pupils across the country revise to sit some of the most important exams of their lives in May.

And again, it is the Scottish Qualifications Authority which finds itself at the centre of the controversy.

Its publication of ‘revision support’, intended to mitigate a year of what the SQA itself describes as “significant disruption” due to Covid, was pilloried by teachers and pupils.

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No wonder, some of it amounted to little more than ‘read the question’ and ‘spell words correctly’, hardly the stuff that won’t have been repeated ad nauseum by teachers all year.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) building in Edinburgh which is set to be scrapped.
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The fury is a timely reminder of the ultimate fate of the SQA in the week in which its future will be outlined by the Scottish Government.

Professor Ken Muir’s review of Scotland’s education bodies will be published this week – most likely on Thursday – before a statement is made to Holyrood by the education secretary.

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The government has already indicated it will “work to replace” the SQA with a new “specialist agency” responsible for both curriculum and assessment.

But, for this new agency to represent any meaningful change, Shirley-Anne Somerville’s statement on Thursday must make it clear that the current leadership and structure is no longer fit for purpose.

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Senior leadership, including chief executive Fiona Robertson who has faced several demands for her resignation from opposition parties, must not be involved.

Nothing but a complete and total dismantling of the SQA while resisting the urge to merely reconstitute it with the same foundations under a new name will suffice.

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Not only is this required from a purely reputational aspect – failure to do so would inevitably result in fury from teachers and pupils alongside stinging attacks from opposition – but also for the SNP to show that it truly understands what has gone wrong since the start of the pandemic.

The SQA failed learners in 2020, arguably did so again in 2021 and many believe it has done so in 2022.

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To suggest that any aspect of such an organisation should retain its place in Scottish education amid the biggest reform in a generation would be an admission from the SNP that it has simply no answer to the question of how to improve Scottish education.

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