Landmark review calls for end of exams for S4 pupils and creation of new Scottish Diploma of Achievement

The Hayward report proposes ‘radical’ shake-up of exams and assessments

A major review has proposed scrapping exams for S4 pupils and creating a new Scottish Diploma of Achievement.

The Hayward report recommendations, published on Thursday, also suggest using a wider range of assessments at Higher and Advanced Highers.

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And it was announced by Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth that legislation to establish new education bodies, including a replacement for the Scottish Qualifications Authority, will now be on “pause for a year” to allow ministers to properly consider a series of recent reviews.

Teenage Students In Uniform Sitting Examination In School HallTeenage Students In Uniform Sitting Examination In School Hall
Teenage Students In Uniform Sitting Examination In School Hall

She said the government must show leadership to address a “new normal” in classrooms in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In her report, Professor Louise Hayward, a Glasgow University expert, made 26 recommendations for the future of Scottish school assessments.

She said: “This report offers the potential to provide learners with a more valuable senior phase experience, teachers with the resources to do the job properly and colleges, employers and universities with better information about learners' achievements.”

The study aims to move the system away from a so-called “two term dash”, in which education from S4 to S6 was said to focus less on quality and depth of learning, instead being “almost entirely driven by preparation for examinations”.

Under the plans, there would be no exams from S1 to S4, with assessment being internal only.

External examinations, alongside internal assessment, would remain a part of Higher and Advanced Highers.

"We believe this will result in a reduction in pressure on learners and staff in education settings and will promote opportunities for greater depth in learning,” the review concluded.

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The first cohort of learners to be awarded when leaving school would be from 2028 to 2032.

The overall diploma would not be graded and it would be awarded when achievements are recognised in each of three key elements – “programmes of learning, “project learning” and the “personal pathway”.

The Hayward report comes alongside the recent Withers Review of the skills system and the National Discussion on education.

Ms Gilruth said the recommendations for reform “could amount to a radical shift in Scottish education”.

However, she said ministers wanted to take time to consider their next steps, delaying new legislation.

"The culture in our schools has changed post-pandemic, and we know that is impacting on attendance and we also know that schools are responding to a cost-of-living crisis and to other external challenges, from artificial intelligence to global instability,” she said.

"Both the Hayward report and the National Discussion talk to this uncertainty.

"So government must provide leadership on reform which addresses this new normal in our school communities.

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"In evidencing that leadership, I’ve concluded that it is not the time to introduce legislation on educational reform now.

“Any reform which meets our ambitions for our young people will need to be bold, it will need to be holistic and, crucially, it will have to be shaped by the expertise of our teachers.

"I’m determined to give this process the time needed to ensure that happens, before bringing forward legislation in the next parliamentary year."

However, Conservative education spokesman Stephen Kerr said: “Scotland’s education system is in dire need of reform after 16 years of SNP failure.

“These reforms must be substantial and cannot just be a superficial paint job – we need to see urgent action now. The SNP need to stop kicking the can down the road and Jenny Gilruth must embrace the need for bold, innovative change.”

David Middleton, hair of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said: “The Hayward report sets out an ambitious programme of change and reform to assessment and qualifications.  

“We will respond to the report more fully in due course. We are positive about change, but we must ensure change can be delivered successfully across the education system, to ensure fairness to learners, and the ongoing integrity and credibility of our qualifications system.

“In June 2021, it was announced that SQA was to be replaced. Today, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has said that the time is not right for legislation to replace SQA. 

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"However, she has made clear that work will continue to create new national bodies. SQA will continue to contribute to that work as it has done since 2021.”

In October 2021, former Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville announced plans to reform qualifications and assessments.

The move came amid fresh debate about the future of assessments after exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also followed a review of Scottish education by the OECD, a paper by Professor Gordon Stobart on possible assessment options, and Angela Morgan’s report on support for learning.

Prof Hayward of Glasgow University was appointed to lead the work, consulting on the purpose and principles which should underpin the reforms.

In her interim report in March, Prof Hayward signalled she would be recommending a “significant reduction in external assessment, including examinations, across the senior phase”.

She also proposed “more clearly defined integration” between academic and vocational qualifications, as well as the potential creation of a “senior phase leaving certificate”.

However, concerns have been raised about the plans, including by Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at Edinburgh University.

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He told The Scotsman earlier this month that the review process should have been postponed months ago in order to properly assess the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

In her report, Prof Hayward recommended the Scottish Government urgently convene and lead a cross-sector commission to develop a position on AI in education and a set of guiding principles for the use of AI.



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