I last met the EIS formally on 1 June 2016 when a wide range of issues was discussed. In addition, I addressed the EIS’s annual general meeting on 11 June and its headteachers conference on 7 October. The Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science met the EIS further education lecturers association on 9 November and I will see EIS representatives later this afternoon and again in December.
When the cabinet secretary meets the EIS representatives later this afternoon, will he be prepared to discuss the performance of the Scottish Qualifications Authority? This morning, evidence was provided to the Education and Skills Committee that, for the physics higher assessment, there had been three versions of the assessment in three years and 81 separate pages of guidance had been issued. In the light of the widespread concerns that have been expressed to the Education and Skills Committee in this parliamentary session, is the cabinet secretary prepared to look at the SQA’s performance?
It is very important that the SQA is constantly mindful of the feedback that it receives from various stakeholders in the field of education in preparing the necessary examination processes and it must ensure that those processes command confidence among a variety of stakeholders. I am determined to ensure that the SQA undertakes that role and that it engages constructively with a variety of different parties as it prepares for the examination diet.
As part of my discussions yesterday with the chief executive of the SQA, we discussed the further raft of changes that have been agreed—not by the SQA, but by the assessment and qualifications group. It is very important to remember that many of the changes and reforms that are made to the system are not made unilaterally by the SQA; they are made following discussions involving a wide range of stakeholders. For example, in the assessment and qualifications group that I chair, there are about 20 stakeholders in the room and we have to reach agreement on the necessary changes to take forward. I assure Mr Scott that the issues that he raises are uppermost in my mind and in my discussions with the SQA
The EIS has said that any education review must clearly set out what benefits it would bring to schools, teachers and pupils, but a great degree of uncertainty remains surrounding the proposed regional boards. What practical benefits will the proposed structural change bring to teachers and pupils? Will the cabinet secretary confirm once and for all whether he will rule out allowing schools to opt out of local authorities?
I have answered the second part of that question in Parliament on previous occasions in response to Mr Gray.
On the first point, regarding the practical benefits of regions, I am concerned to address the fact that, on the information that is publicly available, there is a very wide range in performance by local authorities in adding value to the educational experience of young people in schools. As Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, I am not prepared to turn a blind eye to that. It is not good enough that some local authorities are not as good as other local authorities in providing educational development resources and support to schools.
One practical benefit of the review that I am undertaking is that young people around the country would benefit from a stronger educational development resource as a product of the increased collaboration that should exist in Scottish education, and which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development called on us to ensure is the case. That would be deployed not just for some pupils in Scotland, but for all pupils, which is my priority as education secretary.