Scottish exams shake-up decision delayed while schools tackle alarming post-Covid behaviour and attendance crisis
Education secretary Jenny Gilruth has pushed back a decision on a major shake-up of Scottish qualifications to give schools time to tackle rising classroom violence and poor attendance.
The SNP minister suggested her discussions with teachers had cast doubt over claims there was currently an appetite for “radical reform”, while staff deal with a series of alarming trends in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Gilruth previously made clear she “really worries” about the cohorts which faced the most disruption during the pandemic, and stressed the Government would need to continue to “respond to that” for “years to come”.
The education secretary has still not given her verdict on proposals tabled in June following a review led by Professor Louise Hayward, which recommended axing exams at S4 and creating a new Scottish Diploma of Achievement.
In an update at Holyrood on Tuesday, she instead said she would bring forward a debate on the recommendations next year.
The education secretary, a former teacher, said: “For every ardent supporter of radical reform tomorrow, there are ten teachers telling me about the other challenges they face at the chalkface, challenges which Government needs to work with Cosla and our trade union partners to resolve.”
When Prof Hayward’s report was published in June, Ms Gilruth decided to pause a wider programme of education reforms, including the scrapping and replacement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Education Scotland.
She said she wanted to properly consider the wide-ranging recommendations made in a series of reports, including the Hayward review, the “national discussion” on the future of education, and the Withers report on skills delivery.
In evidence published ahead of a meeting of Holyrood’s education committee on Wednesday, the Association of Directors of Education Scotland (Ades) claimed the number of recent reports and recommendations had “paralysed the system”, as it called on ministers to make “brave decisions” on reform.
But a former teaching leader told The Scotsman in August that Ms Gilruth would be getting feedback from other teachers that “if you take external assessment out of secondary school level subjects, you will get an uptick in poor behaviour”.
In her statement on Tuesday, Ms Gilruth announced the launch of a consultation on new legislation to replace the SQA and Education Scotland, which runs until December 18, with the proposed Education Bill to be introduced later this parliamentary year.
But she said any changes must reflect how Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis had “fundamentally changed” learning and teaching.
"If reform doesn’t recognise the changes in our classrooms– whether they be developmental delays, changed behaviour, communication or even on attendance – then it will not carry credibility,” she said.
On the Hayward review, Ms Gilruth added: "We undertook a survey with teachers and lecturers on the report, which received over 2,000 responses. And whilst agreement on the need for change was clear, there are varying views on next steps, and on the perceived appetite for radical reform.
“And I cannot in this context ignore the challenges our schools are currently responding to, so I must balance that reality with any reform of our qualifications system."
It was also announced Ms Gilruth would chair a ministerial group on education and skills reform.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Liam Kerr said: “There will be huge disappointment that having had six months to consider education reports, all the education secretary could promise was more working groups and forums and more confusion that the Association of Directors of Education warned of.
“We need to see urgent action instead of more dithering and delay. But it is essential that the needs of pupils are prioritised throughout this process – and throughout any other education reforms – as the SNP have let them down all too often.”
Meanwhile, Ms Gilruth said a review of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (Rics), partnerships between local authorities to boost leadership and improvement goals, had led to a decision to taper funding from the Rics from next year, “repurposing” it “to better support teachers in our classrooms”.
And she revealed a proposed new Centre for Teaching Excellence would be hosted by a university, working closely with the Scottish Council of Deans of Education to link the school sector with the university sector at national level.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie said: “There is a clear need for change in Scottish education, but the Government's statement today ducked all the big questions. Details on skills and qualifications forms are still to come.
"The only thing which was new was the abolition of the centrepiece of [former deputy first minister] John Swinney's reforms.”
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