Education Scotland: ‘SQA needs to deliver and change now’ ahead of 2024 scrapping, says Scottish Government independent advisor Kenneth Muir

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Speaking at the Scottish Parliament Education Committee on Wednesday, Professor Kenneth Muir said there is not a “quick fix” as SQA are undertaking “two and possible three diets of examinations” in Scotland.

I have added: “SQA needs to continue to deliver as well as change” and “take a short, hard look at itself”.

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Professor Muir’s comments come after he drew up a report for Scottish education agencies to be replaced and scrapped by 2024.

Professor Kenneth Muir said “more is needed” from the education system in Scotland ahead of the scrapping of the SQA in 2024.

The report – which minister have agreed to accept – stated there is currently too much focus on exams in schools.

This report recommends a new qualifications body – potentially named Qualifications Scotland – as well as a replacement for Education Scotland.

Another independent agency is to be established to run school inspections, and legislation will need to be passed at Holyrood to set up all three.

Making 21 recommendations for the future structure of education agencies, Professor Muir said he heard a lot of criticism of the SQA being an “unlistening” and “distant” organisation.

Professor Muir said: “My report is designed to be a catalyst for further reform and further change.

“It is certainly the case the replacement of SQA and the restructuring of the reform of Education Scotland is a starter but I think more is needed in order to ensure the education system in Scotland is fit for purpose for current and future learners in what is a very changing world.”

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Quoting a senior Scottish headteacher, Professor Muir said “for a number of years” SQA had become “tone deaf”.

He said: “Particularly in the recent past there have been issues concerning the national qualifications and the issues that have emerged over recent year.

“I think it goes back beyond that. I think there was concern expressed that the national qualifications designed to support the curriculum for excellence were not meeting the needs of practitioners and the needs of young people.

“There was a fair degree of discontent expressed about how SQA operates and the extent to which its governance is representative of some of the expertise that exists within schools and classrooms.”

Professor Muir said if the new body is adopted as a rebranded SQA, he said himself and the profession will be “very disappointed”.

Not supporting a complete rehiring of new leadership, the professor suggested that current SQA leadership “needs to look” at the report to use those as “a mirror to reflect on their current practice”.

Willie Rennie, Lberal Democrat Education spokesperson asked how difficult it will be for the new Qualification Scotland to “win over the profession if the older leadership remains in place.”

In response, Prof Muir said: “That will undoubtedly be a challenge and I suppose the issue is are they able to and are they up for the kinds of radical changes to culture in governance?

“And some of them can be fixed fairly quickly.

“All of the telescopes need to focus very much on meeting the needs of learners first and foremost.

“In order to do that, we need to put in an infrastructure which supports learning and teaching.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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