Scottish education is set to be transformed under far-reaching ministerial plans – but critics have accused the SNP of “bloody-mindedness” and say the move is “long overdue”.

Amid ongoing anger over this year’s alternative certification model, the Government has revealed it wants to scrap the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Ministers are also preparing to break up school standards body Education Scotland, with inspection activity due to be split off and made independent.

The announcement comes after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published its long-awaited report on the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

READ MORE: Scotland should reform '19th century' pupil assessments

It says Scotland should consider reforming what have been branded “19th century” assessment practices and highlights major weaknesses in the implementation of CfE that leave secondary pupils feeling ill-equipped for specialist study.

The document, which was described as “damning” by the Scottish Conservatives, proposes a raft of measures that would mark a decisive shift away from highstakes exams while aligning qualifications with “21st century curricula”. These include a more central role for continuous assessment and portfolio-based approaches.

OECD experts also say consideration should be given to a “specialist stand-alone agency” that has responsibility for the curriculum and perhaps assessment.

Despite setting out wide-ranging criticisms, the report stresses that CfE’s learner-centred philosophy is “widely supported” and “continues to be an inspiring example equated with good practice internationally”.

The Government said it would “actively consider” what changes are required to the national qualifications and assessment system. It will also “engage widely” on options for the future of inspection. 

HeraldScotland: Shirley-Anne Somerville has announced plans for far-reaching reform of Scottish education.Shirley-Anne Somerville has announced plans for far-reaching reform of Scottish education.

Confirming that all of the OECD’s recommendations would be accepted in full, Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “The OECD report is crystal clear – Curriculum for Excellence is the right approach for Scotland.

“In fact, despite all the criticism here at home, the OECD tells us it is viewed internationally as an inspiring example of curriculum practice.

“However, ten years on from CfE being introduced, it is right and proper that we review how it is being implemented.”

She added: “We will replace the SQA. We will talk to young people, parents and teachers to build a system that works in line with CfE – exactly as the OECD recommends.

COMMENT: OECD report glosses over Curriculum for Excellence design flaws

“Responsibility for inspection will no longer sit with Education Scotland and we will look at what further reform of the agency’s functions is required.

“Everyone across the education system, including at the SQA and Education Scotland, has worked tirelessly this year under very challenging circumstances. They are owed a debt of gratitude.

“What comes next is a period of change. But it is change in order to improve, to achieve more and to deliver for Scotland’s pupils.”

However, critics said the reform plans should have been announced sooner.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “If the SNP Government had not been so bloody minded for so long, pupils and teachers may not have been subjected the inadequacies of the structure and support provided by the SQA and Education Scotland.”

HeraldScotland: EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan welcomed the OECD report and the Education Secretary's announcement.EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan welcomed the OECD report and the Education Secretary's announcement.

Scottish Conservative Oliver Mundell said: “The SNP arrogantly dismissed criticism and failed to act while Scotland’s schools slid down international league tables.

“This report is the final nail in the SNP’s flawed education system. They have now been forced into a massive top-to-bottom overhaul of their mistakes.

“When we fix the flaws, we must be wary of losing any more hallmarks of Scottish education.

“Our schools have always been proud of their strong exam system and abandoning that would be a mistake.”

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said replacing “failed agencies” would not automatically solve existing problems.

“These changes must go hand in hand with reform of the exams system itself, moving away from the antiquated highstakes end of term exam model and towards systems of ongoing assessment which judge a pupil’s knowledge and abilities with far more accuracy,” he added.

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Scottish Labour’s Michael Marra said: “We need an end to the narrowing of the school curriculum and a far greater focus on ensuring that pupils receive an in-depth education in all of their subjects – rote learning will not do.”

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the EIS union, welcomed the OECD’s report and Ms Somerville’s announcement.

He added: “There is massive assessment overload in the senior phase, which squeezes out the time needed for both depth and breadth of learning – two of CfE’s big ambitions.

“This overload is also the driver of excessive workload, and that has been exposed clearly during the pandemic.”

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary, said: "If you are going to 'replace' or 'scrap' SQA, what is it to be replaced with? Who will run it? In what ways will the exam structure be changed to fit with CfE? Who will oversee the format? Will the hierarchy at SQA simply be moved to the replacement? 

"Who have been identifying the issues with the exam structure? Who have been delivering the exams and have the greatest experience of dealing with CfE and understanding what would be the best transition from Broad General Education to Senior Phase? Teachers must be at the centre of any change and take this forward. Who are the experts that need to be consulted? Not curriculum developers but teachers."

HeraldScotland: SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson wants teachers to be at the centre of the reform process.SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson wants teachers to be at the centre of the reform process.

He added: "We must, as a trade union, take the offensive before the bureaucrats take over yet again."

Fiona Robertson, SQA Chief Executive, said: “We will make a full and positive contribution to the process that lies ahead, drawing on our experience and expertise as Scotland’s qualifications and accreditation body, and working in partnership with others across the education system.

“Whatever outcome eventually emerges, it is critical that we all commit to maintaining the high standards that have long been the hallmark of Scotland’s qualifications.”

A spokesman said "embracing change" was "part of the culture" at Education Scotland.

READ MORE: Chief inspector and SQA boss hit back at MSPs

He added: "Our focus is, and has always been, on supporting the system and the profession.

"The Cabinet Secretary’s announcement, based on the findings of the OECD Curriculum Review, provides an opportunity to ensure we continue to support continual improvement across the whole education system.

“The strength of our approach in supporting the system during the last 18 months, has been team working right across the organisation. This allowed us to work more effectively alongside and in partnership with the system – helping us identify, understand and support requirements nationally, regionally, and locally.

“We are entering a period of change but look forward to continuing working flexibly and collaboratively across the whole system within any new and emerging contexts.”