SQA replacement is long-awaited acceptance of institutional failure - Conor Matchett

With the announced scrapping of the SQA and significant reform of Education Scotland, an overhaul of Scotland’s stumbling education system is squarely on the political agenda for the coming months and years.

The publication of the long-awaited and contentious OECD report into the Curriculum for Excellence arrived to predictable fanfare from opposition politicians, who claimed it was justification for their complaints over the last parliamentary session.

It’s a strange situation to be in, however, for many critics of the education system in Scotland

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One opposition MSP described the report to me as vindication, but also akin to the slaying of their white whale. In essence, what now?

The question of what education in Scotland should now look like must be asked with a degree of acceptance from the Scottish Government they have got things wrong and that institutions and basic tenets of the existing system, such as exams, need to be challenged.

That is going to be a difficult balance to strike for, in the SNP, a political party far from keen as having been defeated in the political battleground of the Holyrood chamber.

It is also a mammoth task for Shirley-Anne Somerville, who may well feel like a sacrificial lamb for John Swinney’s survival.

While the former education secretary may be the more likely of the two to empathise with Captain Ahab, it will be Ms Somerville who rebuilds Scotland’s educational institutions.

She replaced the Deputy First Minister, who was too important to lose from the Cabinet, but also personally responsible for the colossal failings of the 2020 exams scandal and the emerging fiasco of 2021’s qualifications, and will be tasked with the unenviable task of leading the dysfunctional system through reform.

The question that should be asked is if there was so much obviously wrong with Scottish education as to require such root and branch reform as suggested by the OECD, why was the SNP defending the system so vociferously prior to the report’s findings?

The answer? The OECD report provides the SNP with the excuse it needed to push reform, rather than political defeat having forced that same reform.

Any success of policy generated by the OECD report recommendations will be heralded as a sign of competence and SNP success while future failure will likely be placed at their feet.

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