The national assessment system is to be reformed, but “externally marked” exams will not be scrapped, the Scottish Government has said.

It is not yet clear if teachers will also be required to prepare and grade additional internal assessments, as they did in 2020-21 due to Covid.

As part of the education overhaul, education secretary Shirley Ann-Somerville has announced that new qualifications will be developed to “ensure learners’ achievements are fairly recognised”.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, she confirmed that those studying for national qualifications in spring next year will not be affected by any changes.

Scotland’s approach to pupil assessment was criticised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its independent review of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), published in June.

The decision to make changes also follows the renewed debate about examinations following the controversial cancellation of National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams for the last two years as a result of the pandemic. Instead, teachers were asked to conduct use their “professional judgement” of in-house assessment evidence to grade pupils.

In addition, a paper by renowned academic Professor Gordon Stobart, commissioned by the OECD and published in August, called for a “decluttering” of exams in favour of a school graduation certificate.

The education secretary made the announcement as she updated parliament on plans to implement the 12 recommendations in the OECD’s review of Scotland’s curriculum, which are being taken forward and will involve input from stakeholders including children and young people.

Ms Somerville said: “It remains a key priority of this government to ensure that our approaches to curriculum and assessment are fit for purpose and so guarantee the best possible educational experience for children and young people, not least as we emerge from the pandemic.

“I am convinced that given the experience and views expressed over the last two years, the time is right to signal that the Scottish Government supports reform of national qualifications and assessment.

“It will be vital when considering reform that we work with all those with an interest, to, as far as possible, build a consensus on this issue.

“We will consult on the purpose and principles which should underpin any reform of national qualifications and assessment. This will be the first step in a process which must be done with careful thought and consideration, recognising the importance of national qualifications to learners.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of Scotland’s largest teachers’ union, EIS, said the proposed time timescale around the introduction of a new qualification framework (Sept 2022- Aug 2024) is “woefully inadequate”.

He added: “This is an urgent problem highlighted by the pandemic where the clear inequity of the previous high stakes exam approach was exposed for all to see.

“The delivery of a new qualifications framework needs an urgent approach so that we do not default back to a discredited system which failed too many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

A wide range of views will be sought on the reforms, with pupils and teachers informing how the new system will work.

A reference group, led by Louise Hayward, Professor of educational assessment and innovation at Glasgow University, will be set up to provide advice to Ministers on the reforms.

Professor Hayward said: “Professor Stobart’s review offers Scottish education an opportunity to bring the vision for Curriculum for Excellence and practice in the senior phase into better alignment: to design a system that offers better life chances for every young person. 

“In the senior phase, assessment and qualifications matter for all young people, their parents/carers, their teachers, to local authorities and regional improvement collaboratives, to colleges, universities and employers. 

“Any change needs to be based on insights from each of those communities and grounded in evidence from research. Crucially, the voices of young people, so often peripheral to debates in the past, must be listened to and heard.”