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Scottish greens call for secondary school exams shake up
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Education & Skills

Scottish greens call for secondary school exams shake up 

The Scottish Green party has called for a radical shake up of secondary school exams – which could usher in a new era of qualifications based on teacher assessment.

Ministers have pledged to review the way school children are assessed just days after the climate-focused party signed a power sharing agreement at Holyrood.

This comes as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) new report of Scotland’s exams system concludes that there must be a shift in focus away from high stakes testing in secondary schools.

The review – which the Greens claim to have “secured” following last year’s SQA exams shambles – proposes “de-cluttering” of the historical diet of exams to give a greater role to teacher-led assessments.

According to the international body, replacing national exams at the end of S4 with a school graduation certificate may help to better align school assessments with the aims of the curriculum for excellence (CfE).

The OECD said that having pupils sit three exam diets over three years resulted in a secondary school experience “dominated by examination preparation”.

The Scottish Green Party have welcomed the report, which it says highlights that the UK testing systems have remained “rooted in Victorian ideas of education”.

Ross Greer, education spokesperson for the party, also said it “endorses” their “long-held policies for school assessments”.

He added: “As it stands, Scotland has an exams system which doesn’t match the curriculum. This means that curriculum for excellence essentially stops in S4 as teachers are forced to ‘teach to the test’.

“We have the opportunity now to ditch this Victorian-era model of high stakes end of term exams and move towards systems of ongoing assessment which more accurately and fairly measure a pupil’s knowledge and abilities.”

The public health crisis has shone a light on this issue, with the report stating: “The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 illustrated the fragility of those systems that are largely dependent on terminal examinations for secondary school students.” 

The OECD’s ‘Upper-secondary education student assessment in Scotland’ report was commissioned by the Scottish Government following the cancellation of exams for two years in a row due to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Last year, a controversial algorithm was used by the SQA which led to thousands of students being downgraded because their school has not performed well historically. This year, teacher assessments were used to award certification instead.

Following the OECD review on the CfE which was published by the government in June, the education secretary Shirley-Ann Somerville announced that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was to be ditched and Education Scotland heavily reformed.

Other recommendations for changes to the exams system in the new OECD report – written by “renowned” Professor Gordon Stobart – include enhancing the role of vocational qualifications and inclusion of pupils’ views in decisions around assessment.

It also proposed increased use of online exam resources and oral presentations as an assessment format.

Announcing the review, Somerville said the OECD had made it “crystal clear” that the CfE is “the right approach for Scotland”.

She said: “Working with teachers, parents and young people as well as other stakeholders we will give full consideration to the options that Professor 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 CfE in due course.”

Fiona Robertson, SQA chief executive, said the new report is “a welcome contribution to the debate about the future of assessment in Scotland”.

She added: “Whatever reform intentions emerge over the coming months, it is in everyone’s interests to commit to maintaining the high national standards in the short and long term that have long been the hallmark of Scotland’s qualifications.

“In the meantime, SQA will continue to serve Scotland’s learners, including the delivery of exams next year – should it be safe to do so – as part of the established and agreed assessment approach.”

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