Education expert calls for 'decluttering' of Scottish secondary school exams

An expert appointed to help guide the overhaul of Scotland’s education system has called for the “decluttering” of secondary school exams in favour of a school graduation certificate.

Oxford University professor Gordon Stobart was appointed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to devise options for Scotland’s future approach to assessment and qualifications.

And his report published on Tuesday has called for the Scottish Government to “consider alternative ways to acknowledge the end of compulsory schooling”, with one option given to scrap National 5 exams.

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The report claimed pupils sitting three exam groups over three years caused a secondary school experience “dominated by examination preparation”.

The report has advised the Scottish Government to ‘declutter' secondary school exams

Instead, Professor Stobart has suggested replacing the exams at the end of S4 with a school graduation certificate that may help to better align school assessments with the aims of the curriculum for excellence.

The report commissioned by the Scottish Government after cancellation of exams due to coronavirus.

Further options presented in the report include an S4-S6 qualification system combining teacher assessment and exams, an increased use of online exam resources and oral presentations, and the inclusion of pupil views in decisions around assessment.

Prof Stobart said: “Many students are involved in traditional examinations for three consecutive years – a continuation of the historic ‘two-term dash’.

“This diet of examinations may limit the depth and breadth of teaching and learning.”

He has also suggested a possible decentralisation of the qualification system, following adaptations made amid the coronavirus pandemic when exams were cancelled.

Prof Stobart lists six options in total for the possible reform of assessments and qualifications so they align more closely with the Curriculum for Excellence.

One option he recommends strongly is including pupils’ views in decisions around assessments, while highlighting that information available indicates they “would prefer a greater emphasis on continuous assessments by their teachers”.

A further option is increasing both the integration and status of vocational awards.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville promised an overhaul of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Education Scotland earlier this year.

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Welcoming Prof Stobart’s suggestions, Ms Somerville said: “Our decision to cancel exams as a result of the pandemic rightly sparked a great deal of discussion about the best way to recognise learners’ achievements and how we continue to meet their needs.

“Working with teachers, parents and young people as well as other stakeholders, we will give full consideration to the options that Prof Stobart has outlined. This will form part of our work to ensure that every part of our education system is designed so that young people can demonstrate their full potential.

“I will update Parliament on how this work will be taken forward and on the on-going implementation of OECD recommendations on Curriculum for Excellence in due course.”

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Oliver Mundell warned against scrapping exams.

He said: “The Scottish Conservatives have consistently argued that retaining robust and credible, externally assessed exams is in the best interests of young people.

“After 14 years of botched SNP reforms, externally assessed exams are one of the last remaining hallmarks of our once world-leading education system.

“No government serious about raising standards would even contemplate getting rid of them.”

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