Lib Dems urge major reform of Scottish Qualifications Authority

Scotland’s new education secretary will be urged to commit to reforming the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) this week as concerns grow over senior pupil assessments.

Holyrood is due to debate the recovery of Scotland’s education sector this week as the assessments being set by teachers in place of exams come to a close and without an appeals process yet published.

The debate comes a week after The Scotsman revealed four fifths of secondary school teachers believe the assessment to be unfair.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said her party would seek to “secure the will of Parliament” to gain a commitment from Shirley-Anne Somerville to reform both the SQA and Education Scotland, the government agency responsible for improving Scottish education. The Scottish Greens have said both agencies should be scrapped and replaced.

The SQA has been criticised for failing to publish details on the appeals process for 2021 exams. Picture: PA

She said Ms Somerville – who replaced John Swinney as education secretary in the post-election Cabinet reshuffle – should make the most of the “rare opportunity for reforms that have the backing of teachers, pupils, parents and the Scottish Parliament”.

Ms Wishart said: “The new education secretary has a rare opportunity to take forward reforms that have the backing of teachers, pupils, parents and the Scottish Parliament.

“John Swinney refused to listen and as a result lost their trust as well as any sense of how to get things back on track.

"The SQA and Education Scotland are simply not fit for purpose. Their shortcomings should have been addressed long ago."

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

She pointed to last year’s exams “fiasco”, and concerns of a repeat that she said “could have been avoided”.

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Ms Wishart added: “The SQA and Education Scotland must be reformed for the recovery. Teachers should be able to set the direction of the organisations.

"That's how to protect against repeats of the exams chaos that pupils and teachers have endured. I hope the new education secretary will recognise the benefits of these proposals this week.”

The move by the Lib Dems comes as Ms Somerville was warned thousands of pupils could be “cheated” out of deserved grades because of Scotland’s “wayward” exams body.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at Edinburgh University, said fairness in the assessments was “almost impossible to achieve” unless she intervened.

He said while the exams had “officially” been cancelled by Mr Swinney and assessment would be based on teachers’ judgement, that had been "clear enough to everyone except the wayward SQA, which runs the exams”.

"They decided that exams would be held after all, but concealed as mere ‘assessments’,” he said.

Prof Paterson said the only remaining option was for the SQA to accept teacher assessments without question.

“That is not a perfect solution, but it is the least bad option now available,” he said. “If the SQA refuses to act, then the new education secretary ought to instruct them to do so – not change individual grades, but to change the system. That kind of bold action would show truly wise political leadership.”

A spokesman for the SQA said its Alternative Certification Model was a flexible framework for schools and colleges that combined professional judgement with evidence of learning.

The Scottish Government said the model had been devised with input from teachers, parents and young people and had in-built flexibility.

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