Why education delays are no longer an option
In August 2020, the SQA’s algorithm downgraded the results of students from mainly working class backgrounds, that had been based, since exams could not run due to Covid, on the professional judgements of their teachers.
Rightly, former Cabinet secretary for education, John Swinney, ordered the SQA to reinstate the original grades awarded by teachers, following outcry from parents, teachers and most loudly from students themselves. John Swinney demonstrated courage and humility in ensuring that such a social injustice would not be allowed to stand- and definitely not in the run-up to the next Scottish Parliament election.
From that slipstream, in 2021, John Swinney’s successor announced the disbandment of the SQA by 2024 and an independent review of senior phase assessment and qualifications within a year, such was the strength of public opinion that the status quo was just not an option. It seemed that the political will was still there to bring about change in the interests of greater equity in senior phase assessment- after all this aligned wholly with the Scottish Government’s stated priority of closing the poverty-related attainment gap.
Professor Louise Hayward and colleagues spent nine months intensively carrying out the review work, albeit with hands somewhat tied behind their backs since neither the Scottish Government nor local authorities would create any protected time for teachers to be involved in the critical discussions about the future of senior phase assessment. The review team had to find creative ways to ensure teacher voice was captured and did so.
The final report was published almost six months ago. Nothing has happened other than the current Cabinet secretary, Jenny Gilruth, putting the brakes on both the disbandment of the SQA by a year and on responding to the 26 recommendations for progressive change in the Hayward Review- change that was being urgently demanded and firmly promised in the late summer of 2020 and a few months later in the SNP manifesto for the 2021 election.
Now, midway through the parliamentary term, the inertia is being explained away as the Cabinet Secretary’s wish to consult the teaching profession further (but very late in the day) on the proposals for change.
The EIS was calling for this in 2022 at the outset of the review process but the call fell on deaf political ears. Now, months past the end of it, what is needed is the political courage to take the recommendations of the Hayward Review, that were reached by consensus across a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives of the teaching profession, who also consulted directly with teachers, and move forward into the world of 21st century assessment.
Scotland and the wider UK, are already anachronistic outliers when it comes to the prevalence of exams-based qualifications. We are already behind.
Other countries have already reformed their assessment models and created a more level playing field by reducing the amount of high stakes, exam-based assessment. If the Scottish Government does not grasp the opportunity to move forward now, it will not only fall further behind internationally, its inaction will amount to an unforgivable betrayal of the electorate, and of the young people whose life chances continue to be negatively impacted by the inherent inequalities baked into the current model of senior phase assessment that affords the greatest status to high-stakes exam-based assessment and is of greatest benefit to the most affluent young people in our society.
Any government that is worth its salt when it comes to social justice would not let this status quo stand for one day longer than it needs to and see thousands more young people from less affluent backgrounds being further disadvantaged. The status quo was not an option in August 2020. It is not an option today. “
- Andrea Bradley is the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS)
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