End of term school exams are “out of date” and should be replaced with a system that could allow pupils to sit and resit them throughout the year like driving tests, according to government advisers.

Nicola Sturgeon's International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) argues in a major new report that the traditional diet of make-or-break tests could be reformed in favour of a "greater role for internal assessment in determining qualifications that better match the knowledge and skills demanded by wider social and economic change".

Secondary exams, the report states, are "essentially an out-of-date 19th and 20th century technology operating in a 21st century environment of teaching and learning", with digital platforms meaning they can now be "more continuous, rather than episodic".

It adds: "There may still be components of sit-down examinations, but if these are based on a wide menu of changing, problem-based questions, these can be taken and re-taken like driving tests, as needed, throughout the year, rather than in a one-time, high-stress, win/lose moment.

"At least one state in the US is transferring its budget from standardised testing to formative assessment. California has also now abandoned standard achievement tests as a basis for university selection." 

The ICEA report comes after cancellation of next year's National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams amid concern over Covid-19 and disruption caused to learning.

Its publication also follows the results fiasco earlier this year. Thousands of pupils saw their teacher-estimated marks downgraded through the SQA’s moderation process, which took into account the past performance of schools and resulted in those from less affluent backgrounds being hardest hit. 

A change of heart led to the reinstatement of original grades.

The report, which states that Education Secretary John Swinney was right to axe the National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher tests, says: "This year’s examination issues have highlighted the danger of the legitimate needs of reliable metrics overriding the breadth of learning that is increasingly central to success for individuals, societies and economies. Reliability and validity both matter."

The ICEA was established in 2016 to advise ministers on how best to achieve excellence and equity in Scottish education.

Its members include Professor Andy Hargreaves, President of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement, Professor Graham Donaldson, international adviser to the OECD, and Professor Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator, author and scholar.

In addition to addressing assessment, the council sets out a range of ideas and recommendations on areas including the curriculum, teacher training and leadership.

"Our report proposes a profound transformation to Scottish education, indeed to all educational systems, so that they can operate in a pandemic as effectively, or almost as effectively as in other circumstances," the document states.

"It also proposes a universally designed educational system that provides high quality education for all during a pandemic in ways that also improve and transform high quality education for all in other 'normal' circumstances."

Two prominent themes are integration of digital technology and learning outdoors as Scotland's education system recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Discussing the importance of "digital competence" - which covers activity such as appropriate and inappropriate online behaviour and assessment of the value, legitimacy and accuracy of online materials - the report says this must be taught "systematically and explicitly and learned deliberately from an early age".

It adds that such skills, along with the ability to teach online as well as in person, should be "a mandatory part of teacher preparation, and something in which all existing teachers should become fully competent within five years".

On learning outdoors, the report says this is "something in which Nordic countries, with a similar climate to Scotland, have a long tradition, and that can and should be expanded in all cases, not just during a pandemic". It adds: "The capacity to teach one’s subject or curriculum in an outdoor environment should become part of all teachers’ training and certification." 

The report also acknowledges the strain of the pandemic on school senior management teams and teachers, arguing that collaboration, ending the "over reliance" on one leader and networking among schools will be vitally important.   

Responding to the report, Mr Swinney said: “The International Council of Education Advisers recognises the effort and resources going in to narrow attainment gaps and strengthen the teaching profession. It reinforces the issue of equity as the defining agenda of our time, says we have an excellent standing internationally and that Scottish education can be a ‘global standard bearer in a post-pandemic world’.

“That is no easy task and the report provides a series of detailed recommendations to help us not just get back to normal, but to use the pandemic as an opportunity to develop a more resilient education system for the future.

"I am grateful to every member of the Council for giving us their time and their experience to help improve education. We will consider the report carefully, discuss with our partners and publish a full response in the new year.”