Scotland should consider a ‘school graduation certificate’ in place of traditional exams, report author says

Scotland should consider implementing a school graduation certificate in place of the traditional exams system, the organisation behind a sweeping report into Scotland’s education system has said.

Beatriz Pont, co-author of an OECD report into the function of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), said that one solution to solving problems identified around the “senior phase” of schools would be to create a certificate system akin to the baccalaureate.

Speaking at a conference held by entitled Scotland Policy Conferences, Ms Pont said there were a number of options published in a recent OECD working paper which would allow the education system to move beyond the “legacy system” of student assessment in Scotland.

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Also addressing the conference, ‘Next steps for the school curriculum in Scotland following the OECD Independent Review’, Rod Grant, headmaster of the independent Clifton Hall School in Edinburgh, also warned that major changes were needed to Scotland's assessment system. He warned that children joining his school at secondary level do not have the skills they had five years ago.

The assessment system in Scotland needs to be changed, the OECD has said.

He said: “Too many pupils at age 16 and 15 have to take subjects that we don't actually want to. What does that lead to? It leads to a lack of engagement and that’s not good for teaching and learning.”

He added: “We should focus more on teaching and learning and critical thinking and less on high stakes single measurements, where children are regurgitating learning material. We need to focus more on personalised learning.

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“I'm continually asking students what they like and what they don’t like about school and we act upon that: we need to do that nationally.”

Ms Pont said the OECD had published a working paper which looked at how the forms of assessment could be broadened out. The authors of the main report, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence Into the Future, published in June, recommended scrapping the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and reforming Education Scotland. The exams body is to be broken up and replaced, with pupils, parents and teachers to be consulted on changes, while responsibility for school inspections will be split off to a new independent system.

She said: “[What] this paper proposes is to explore the replacement of exams at age 16 by a school graduation certificate, and then to consider options in terms of the upper secondary assessment system to develop a mixed method of assessment where it's more resilient."

She said alternatives would prevent what happened during the pandemic; to seek better alignment of assessment CFE by broadening the forms of assessment, reconfigure the role of school based assessment and develop the goal of vocational qualifications in broadening the curriculum.

She said: "I don't think that it's a matter of dropping [eams] but maybe reducing the weight that they have in the overall assessment of a child or a student who leaves school – where you can gauge their creativity and other types of schemes that are not necessarily only pen and paper tests of how they are able to repeat the knowledge that they learned.”

She added: “We've given the recommendations, it's up to Scotland to take them on board as they think, but we just think it's important to tackle these issues.”

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