A new form of qualification is to be introduced in Scotland, with hopes that it can spark further progress in reforming the nation’s education and examination system.

The International Sustainability Diploma (ISD) has been developed by Dollar Academy and will be piloted by a further five schools - Inverness Royal Academy, Speyside High School, Alloa Academy, Braes High School, and Clifton Hall School – for the 2024-25 school year. If successful, it will then be made available to all schools in Scotland.

Thanks to a partnership with Glasgow Clyde College, supported by Scottish Government funding, students who successfully complete the course will secure a qualification that is equivalent to a Higher and that will be recognised for university or college applications in Scotland and abroad.

However, the course is not taught using traditional class structures or assessed through a typical end of year exam. Instead, students will learn by “designing solutions to real-world problems”, collect evidence of their progress using an ongoing portfolio approach, and demonstrate their knowledge and skills through presentations.

Participants on the ISD programme begin with an introduction to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), helping them to understand the key issues around international sustainability. They will also learn about the Design Thinking process, a person-centred approach to finding solutions to the problems that people encounter in their lives.

Students then consider a range of available ‘Global Challenge Projects’, selecting three that they wish to work on in greater depth: they will research the key issues and the needs the needs of people affected before coming up with possible mitigations or solutions, all of which are developed and refined through an ongoing process of feedback and testing. This work could involve projects such as designing a new wave-powered method for water desalination, an app to support people experiencing climate anxiety, or a monument to make a statement about modern slavery.

During the final unit, students select one of their three chosen projects and aim to develop proposals for a business or social enterprise that could deliver it. This work is carried out with support from the Enterprise Team at the University of Stirling, and concludes with a formal presentation task.


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The ISD course has been developed by the Futures Institute at Dollar Academy (FIDA), which was established in 2021 with a view to exploring alternatives to traditional teaching and exam approaches while exploring a range of issues connected to the 17 SDGs. It has so far provided free access to a range of ‘challenge’ courses built around these goals, which have been completed by hundreds of students from across more than 50 schools.

In order to continue the development of FIDA, Dollar Academy is currently planning to construct a new building within the grounds of the school that is designed to facilitate the sort of collaborative, iterative and developmental processes at the heart of the ISD qualification.

An aerial view of the proposed new FIDA centre at Dollar AcademyAn aerial view of the proposed new FIDA centre at Dollar Academy (Image: Dollar Academy)

Designed by Andrew Whalley, one of the architects behind the ground-breaking Eden Project in Cornwall, it will feature a range of innovations including a digital prototyping suite, a science lab, and creative spaces designed to facilitate interdisciplinary learning. According to Whalley, it has been designed to be “an exemplar of sustainable architecture.” Planning permission was secured last year, and pre-construction activity on the site has already taken place, with building work due to begin over the forthcoming summer holidays.

Once completed, the new facility will provide a physical home for the ISD programme where students can collaborate with one another, as well as a range of industry experts, in order to enhance and expand their knowledge and skills.

An interior view of the proposed new FIDA centreAn interior view of the proposed new FIDA centre (Image: Dollar Academy)

Having supported the development of the ISD course, education secretary Jenny Gilruth said that her government is “committed to developing a system of qualifications and assessment that ensures pupils are well-equipped to tackle future challenges as they progress through education.”

“Young people are facing a range of global challenges, including the climate emergency, which is why we have supported Dollar Academy to gain accreditation of its sustainability diploma, as part of the implementation of our Learning for Sustainability Action Plan.

“I am pleased that vitally important education resources such as these can be accessed for free by pupils across the country.”