Now 'not the time' to replace SQA exam board, says education secretary

Education secretary Jenny Gilruth made the announcement in parliament on Thursday.

Now is “not the time” to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the education secretary has said.

Plans to overhaul the examination board along with Education Scotland following changes during the Covid pandemic will not go ahead in the summer of 2024, as originally planned.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, education secretary Jenny Gilruth said teachers must be given the opportunity to consider reforms.

The address was made in response to the publication of a “radical” report by education expert Professor Louise Hayward of the University of Glasgow.

Legislation to establish new education bodies, including a separate inspections agency, will now only be introduced after ministers have considered the findings of the review.

The Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment (IRQA) was commissioned by the Scottish Government to look at how well the current system is working.

Plans would see the adoption of the SDA (Scottish Diploma of Achievement) as a graduation certificate for all senior phase educational settings along with the end of exams in S4 and a wider range of assessment methods used in Highers and Advanced Highers.

The report also recommends a digital profile for all learners which allows them to record personal achievements, identify and plan future learning.

Following the report, Gilruth said: “The recommendations, if implemented, could represent very significant changes to our qualifications system offered by Scotland’s schools and colleges.

“The recommendations in this report could amount to a radical shift in education, and as Cabinet Secretary I need to be certain these changes are the right ones for Scotland’s young people.

“Government must provide leadership on reform which addresses this new normal in our school communities.

“In evidencing that leadership, I have concluded that it is not the time to introduce legislation on educational reform now.

“Any reform which meets our ambitions for our young people will need to be bold, holistic and, crucially, shaped by the expertise of our teachers.

“I am determined to give this process the time needed to ensure that happens before bringing forward legislation in the next parliamentary year.”

While Gilruth, a former teacher, said she is supportive of continuous assessment that is “managed appropriately”, she said teachers will be given time to consider reform in the next school year.

Responding, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie however said teachers have already lost confidence in the agencies.

He said: “I am a bit concerned that she is delaying the reform of the national bodies by it seems a year.

“It’s important that the profession has confidence in these national bodies and I worry if it’s delayed then we will have a real problem in inspiring confidence among the teachers.”

Stephen Kerr, the Scottish Conservative education spokesman, said the report was a “damning verdict” of the Scottish Government, adding: “We still have no clear sense of the Government’s strategy.”

Labour education spokeswoman Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “Understanding and reviewing problems is necessary for change but I think it’s clear that what’s needed now from the Government is leadership, clarity and action.”

David Middleton, chair of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said: “The Hayward report sets out an ambitious programme of change and reform to assessment and qualifications.  

“We will respond to the report more fully in due course.   We are positive about change, but we must ensure change can be delivered successfully across the education system, to ensure fairness to learners, and the ongoing integrity and credibility of our qualifications system.”

In a statement he continued: “In June 2021, it was announced that SQA was to be replaced.  Today, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has said that the time is not right for legislation to replace SQA.  However, she has made clear that work will continue to create new national bodies. SQA will continue to contribute to that work as it has done since 2021.

“Our focus remains on ensuring that we continue to deliver high quality qualifications to learners in schools, colleges and training providers across Scotland and beyond.  This includes 140,000 learners who sat exams in 2023 and who will receive their results on 8 August.  

“I would like to thank SQA staff for their continued hard work and commitment throughout this period of uncertainty.”

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