Upper-secondary Education Student Assessment

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th September 2021.

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Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

6. To ask the Scottish Government how it will take forward the recommendations in Professor Gordon Stobart’s review of upper-secondary education student assessment in Scotland. (S6O-00154)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Professor Stobart’s work looks at approaches to qualifications and assessment that are taken around the world and sets out options for consideration in a Scottish context. We will draw on that work to inform wider conversations and ensure that our future qualifications and assessment approaches better align with the early stages of our curriculum and are accessible to all learners, including those with additional support needs and those from more deprived backgrounds.

I will provide a further update to Parliament in October, as part of an update on the on-going implementation of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s recommendations in its review of curriculum for excellence.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Professor Stobart’s international comparisons between high-stakes exit examinations and robust and adequately moderated continuous assessments highlight real opportunities to rebalance Scotland’s model of certification and make it less reliant on such high-stakes exams. Having spoken to members of the Scottish Youth Parliament and fellow members of the Education, Children and Young People Committee yesterday, I know that many young people would not only welcome that work but would be keen to be involved in shaping it.

Can the cabinet secretary provide any additional update to Parliament on the Scottish Government’s latest thinking in that area? Can she also reassure young people that they will be meaningfully involved in discussions on reshaping Scotland’s model of certification to ensure that young people receive the qualifications that they merit?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

We are committed, as a Government, to ensuring that the voices of young people, parents and teachers as well as practitioners are at the centre of our education policy. We want it to be the norm that children and young people are involved in those decision-making processes.

On 22 June, I outlined that we will reconvene the Scottish education council, and we will ensure that the council includes young people’s representatives. In addition, we are establishing the children and young people’s education council to sit alongside the Scottish education council, and they will have parity of esteem. Along with wider engagement, that will help to ensure that children’s and young people’s voices influence education policy, including by shaping the reform of qualifications.

Photo of Oliver Mundell Oliver Mundell Conservative

The cabinet secretary should not need a further review or committee to answer this yes-or-no question. Will she give a simple guarantee that Scottish pupils will still have the opportunity to gain an externally assessed exam-based qualification before leaving school?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

As I have said on numerous occasions, the Government is open to the opportunities that we have.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

With the greatest respect, I say to Mr Mundell that it is not a simple yes-or-no answer, because we are having serious and detailed conversations about what assessments will look like. “Yes or no?” does not quite cut it in government, although it might do for Mr Mundell’s press release.

As I was saying, Presiding Officer, the Government is very open to considering the best way of doing assessments and qualifications in the future, and Professor Stobart has given us a range of options. Many of the opportunities that we have are based on combining assessments at the end of term—exams—with more continuous assessment, ensuring that we give everyone in Scotland the opportunity to develop to their full potential.

I am determined to do that. I hope that the Opposition rises to the occasion, gets past asking for yes-or-no answers and joins the detailed conversation on the role of exams, in the current set-up and in any future set-up, and how we can take things to the next level to provide the best opportunities for Scotland’s young people.

Photo of Michael Marra Michael Marra Labour

Yesterday, the Scottish Qualifications Authority published a two-page document that stated that the final decision on national qualifications in 2022 will be made next March. It lacked any detail of the criteria that will be used in making that decision—particularly around whether disruption will be assessed on a pupil-by-pupil, school-by-school, council-by-council or national basis. Will the education secretary make a statement to Parliament to clarify that important issue?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

In its statement yesterday, the SQA gave further detail of what will happen in different scenarios. One aspect that the SQA looked at relates to a scenario in which there is increased disruption but exams are allowed to happen. Those changes can be made very late on in the process, because they relate to what will happen in the exams themselves.

The other scenario that the SQA considered relates to what happens if exams cannot happen because of the pandemic. That is why the SQA has given the reassurance that assessments will inform the process and that that will not create an additional workload for teachers. Yesterday’s announcement gave a lot of certainty and reassurance to teachers, young people and parents.

As we go through the year, the situation will be fluid and flexible. I am not sure whether Mr Marra has a crystal ball showing what the pandemic will look like in a couple of months, but I certainly do not. That is why we and the SQA are continuing our discussions with stakeholders, including parents, teachers and young people, to develop our understanding as we go. Of course, the SQA will give further detail in due course, once those discussions reach the point at which announcements can be made.