The Scottish exams body is to be scrapped following the long-awaited publication of an independent review.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is to be replaced and Education Scotland – the inspection and curriculum development body – is to be substantially reformed, education secretary Shirley-Ann Sommerville has revealed.

The education overhaul is in response to the OECD’S – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Organisation – review of the Curriculum for Excellence, (CfE) which was published by the Scottish Government today.

Education Scotland will no longer undertake inspections, with this work becoming a separate, independent role. The Scottish Government will engage widely on the options for the future of inspection.  

The OECD also suggests that the curriculum work currently undertaken by Education Scotland might best sit with any new curriculum and assessment body which will replace the SQA.

The report, which was commissioned by the government in 2020 to assess the design and implementation of the curriculum in schools and to identify areas for improvement across the country, sets out 12 recommendations, which the government has pledged to implement in full.

Publication of the report, which was pushed back as a result of the pandemic, has been withheld by government officials for several months.

The SQA has come under fire during the pandemic for how students’ grades have been decided following the cancellation of exams two years in a row.

According to the Scottish Government, changes to the assessment system will be “heavily informed” by the next OECD report, expected in the autumn, and by consultation with young people, parents, teachers and the wider education system.

On the necessity for a shake-up of exams, the OECD review reads: “A broader approach to external student assessment would allow SQA to explore a wider range of assessment options, including more use of information technology to provide online examination resources and more interactive approaches; opportunities for candidates to use computers to respond; incorporation of ePortfolio and personal projects for external marking; more use of oral presentations and practicals as a way to broaden the assessment formats.”

It goes on to recommend options to be considered and piloted which may allow for “fuller alignment” with the CfE, including a more central role for continuous teacher assessment during the course, based on classwork and school-based tests, as well as externally marked projects, extended essays, and oral and practical presentations.

The report also suggests “more use of digital opportunities for feedback and feedforward”.

In addition, the new review highlights that Scotland’s teachers have one of the highest rates of class-contact across OECD countries, saying “there is an obvious tension between this comparatively high rate of class contact and the expectations of CfE that teachers lead and plan curriculum locally”.

Reducing class-contact hours would give teachers “the dedicated time to lead, plan and support CfE at the school level”, it says.

This comes after the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the nation’s largest teaching union, filed a motion for class-contact time to be reduced to 20 hours by 2030 earlier this month. It is currently 22.5 hours on average.

The report however makes it clear reducing class-contact time in any school system only makes sense “when the teaching workforce is already well-qualified and has demonstrated capacity for innovation and collaboration”.

It suggests one way forward could be “to build upon the additional funding for teacher recruitment provided by the Scottish Government in 2020 and reserve some of the resulting additional teaching time to curriculum planning, monitoring student achievement and moderation.”

Somerville said: “The last few years have accelerated a debate about the future of Curriculum for Excellence and senior phase education in particular. The OECD report is crystal clear – Curriculum for Excellence is the right approach for Scotland.

“In fact, despite all the criticism here at home, the OECD tells us it is viewed internationally as an inspiring example of curriculum practice. However, 10 years on from CfE being introduced, it is right and proper that we review how it is being implemented. 

“We accept in full all 12 recommendations from the OECD. We will replace the SQA. We will talk to young people, parents and teachers to build a system that works in line with CfE – exactly as the OECD recommends. Responsibility for inspection will no longer sit with Education Scotland and we will look at what further reform of the agency’s functions is required.

“Everyone across the education system, including at the SQA and Education Scotland, has worked tirelessly this year under very challenging circumstances. They are owed a debt of gratitude. What comes next is a period of change.

“But it is change in order to improve, to achieve more and to deliver for Scotland’s pupils. Our commitment is to do exactly that and we will work with everyone and anyone willing to help to make that a reality.”

The education secretary intends to set out more details on the Scottish Government response to the OECD report in parliament on 22 June.