Scotland’s education system has failed to keep pace with the latest best practice and has a confused strategy for achieving its long-term vision, according to a hotly-anticipated report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), released on Monday.
The Scottish Government had delayed publication of the report until after the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in May, in a move opposition leaders condemned but which John Swinney, then education minister, had argued was necessary to allow greater “stakeholder engagement” on its findings.
The independent review exposes “fundamental issues” with Scotland’s education policy, according to Elizabeth Smith, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and former Shadow Education Secretary. “There is no strong link between assessment methodology and educational improvement” meaning “little accountability and weak management” of student attainment, she said.
The OECD report includes 12 recommendations for improvement, all of which will be accepted by the Scottish Government, according to Somerville, who said that the report vindicates the SNP’s education policy as “the right approach”.
The OECD praised the Overall vision of Curriculum for Excellence as “widely supported and worth pursuing”. But Lindsay Paterson, Professor of Education Policy at the University of Edinburgh, says that the report is “woefully ill-informed about the kinds of rigorous statistical data that is needed to understand pupils’ progress or to hold the system to account.”
He added: “The report devotes an inordinate amount of space to systems, ‘stakeholder engagement’, etc, while also neglecting some crucial social groups, such as parents and employers. That attention to systems gives the impression that the problem lies with systems, rather than with the very nature of what CfE is trying to do.”
While the Curriculum for Excellence was implemented in 2010, no comprehensive analysis of the policy had been done until this report. The Curriculum promises a “more holistic” approach to education focusing on four “capacities” – including “responsible citizenship” and “effective contributors”, as well as traditional exam-based learning.
Yet the OECD notes a lack of data on student attainment under the policy: “Given CfE’s focus on the four capacities, the absence of data on how well students are achieving in three of these – the capacities beyond “successful learner”, which are harder to assess – is noteworthy”, it said.
The report also recommends “more coherence and alignment” between exam-based assessments and the goals of CfE, describing it as “a confused set of policies”.
As well as the report’s 12 recommendations, the SNP has pledged to scrap the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), with the report saying that older qualifications assessed by the exam board are acting as “a barrier to implementation” to the CfE framework.
The SNP has been criticised in recent years for undermining assessment-based learning in an effort to mask poor attainment in Scottish schools. In 2019, a report by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a world education league table, concluded that Scotland was “above average” in reading but “similar to the OECD average” for maths and science and below England in all assessments.
The SNP had previously withdrawn Scotland from international league tables, replacing them with its own assessment, the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, which was then scrapped in 2017.