Calls for sweeping reform as SQA scrapped following OECD report recommendations

Opposition politicians have welcomed confirmation the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is to be scrapped, but warned that sweeping reforms to Scotland’s education system are still needed.

In response to recommendations from an OECD report into the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the Scottish Government said it would entirely scrap the SQA – just weeks after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged that she had “full confidence” in the examinations body.

The government also pledged to take on all 12 recommendations laid out by the OECD report, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence Into the Future.

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The Scottish Green party said teachers were “stuck teaching to a century-old assessment system” and called for a major overhaul.

The Scottish Government has pledged to look at exams in the senior phase of high school
The Scottish Government has pledged to look at exams in the senior phase of high school

The OECD report pointed to a gap between the CfE’s aims and the schooling offered to those at the top end of Scottish high schools.

Meanwhile, the head of the SQA said that disbanding her organisation was an “opportunity for significant change”.

Chief executive Fiona Robertson said: “This is an opportunity for significant change that will meet the future needs of our learners, our society and our economy, and which has the support of all.

“We will make a full and positive contribution to the process that lies ahead, drawing on our experience and expertise as Scotland’s qualifications and accreditation body, and working in partnership with others across the education system.

"Whatever outcome eventually emerges, it is critical that we all commit to maintaining the high standards that have long been the hallmark of Scotland’s qualifications.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of teaching union the EIS, said: “It is essential that any new body is properly configured and is accountable to the profession through a model of governance based on educational, rather than political, considerations and with a teacher voice at its heart.”

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Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer said: “This report is a damning judgement of Scotland’s exams system and the body which oversees it, so the news that the SQA is effectively being abolished is certainly welcome.

"As we already knew, the principles of Curriculum for Excellence are sound, but it is near impossible for teachers to deliver in S4-6, because they are stuck teaching to a century-old assessment system instead.”

He added: “Replacing failed agencies won’t automatically solve this problem though. These changes must go hand in hand with reform of the exams system itself, moving away from the antiquated high-stakes, end-of-term exam model and towards systems of ongoing assessment which judge a pupil’s knowledge and abilities with far more accuracy.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “There has been an impenetrable bubble at the top of Scottish education for far too long. After years of campaigning by Scottish Liberal Democrats and others, it looks as though that bubble may finally be set to burst.

“On top of these long overdue reforms of the SQA and Education Scotland we need a comprehensive package of bounce back support for pupils.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra said: “Today’s report has made it clear that Scotland’s education system is in urgent need of reform and resources.

“It is welcome that the SQA is to be scrapped and replaced by a new body. It has become increasingly clear that the organisation stood as a barrier to realising the full potential of Curriculum for Excellence.”

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