Scotland’s national exams body has been accused of seeking to change a landmark education report to "save its own skin”.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said a freedom of information (FOI) request had revealed that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) asked the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to make edits to its draft independent analysis of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). This included one “key theme” it acknowledged was linked to “recommendations including organisational reform”.

The document's publication led to ministerial plans to replace the SQA and remove inspections from standards body Education Scotland.

Ministers confirmed recently that they had received a follow-up report on progressing reforms from Professor Ken Muir, former chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. They expect to release it in the Spring, when Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville will also set out her response to Parliament.  

But the Liberal Democrats say their FOI document haul reveals that the Scottish Government and its agencies were attempting to influence the report’s content, creating a possible knock-on effect for its recommendations and outcomes.

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They also claim the FOI request, which was first reported in The Times on Wednesday morning, shows the SQA and its chief executive, Fiona Robertson, “fact checking” the OECD’s draft report.

They say this includes the agency and Ms Robertson disputing what was described as “one of the key themes that emerges” within the document and which is also used as "the basis for a number of recommendations including organisational reform”. The claim relates to the OECD’s draft stating that “there does not appear to be yet a successful alignment of qualifications and exams in Senior Phase with the CfE vision”. The SQA argued in its fact checking that this lacked evidence and context.

A version of the line was retained in the final report, with the SQA disputing it publicly. However, the Liberal Democrats insist the new documents show the agency sought to have this section altered before the report was ever published.

The party also highlighted how it previously uncovered that the Scottish Government was in possession of the draft OECD report. This sparked accusations that ministers were editing it.

The OECD's report highlighted concerns over alignment between Scotland's qualifications system and Curriculum for Excellence.Willie Rennie said there were lots of questions to answer.

Willie Rennie, education spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “The Scottish Government and its agencies have regularly built in and exercised the right to ‘fact check’ independent reports. Once again, that doesn’t tell a fraction of the story of what was going on behind the scenes.

“This document haul confirms that there were efforts to influence the report’s content and key themes, with a possible knock-on effect for its recommendations and outcomes.

“The Chief Executive of the SQA tried to secure changes to a theme of a report which was known could be used to justify the reform of the organisation - even its break-up. This was the SQA trying to save its skin.

“Only John Swinney and the SNP could set up an independent review of Scottish education but schedule in months of ministerial editing and jiggery pokery through their own fact checking service.

“These documents must trigger the publishing of all the other documents that are being kept secret.” 

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On the issue of the Scottish Government refusing to give its equivalent documents to The Times while the SQA provided its versions to the Liberal Democrats, Mr Rennie added: “This Scottish Liberal Democrat freedom of information request has plunged the Scottish Government’s account of its handling of the OECD report into complete disarray. Ministers now have a lot of questions to answer.

“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, which sums up everything you need to know about what has been going on for years among those charged with overseeing and stewarding Scottish education."

An SQA spokesman said: "SQA was asked to comment on the draft report, based on our responsibilities and expertise of the awarding and assessment system in Scotland. It was entirely for OECD to consider what changes it wanted to accept for the final report.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The OECD report is an independent review carried out by an independent body. The timing of its publication was determined by the OECD. The report, which was published in full on 21 June 2021, backed Curriculum for Excellence, and the Scottish Government has accepted its 12 recommendations.”

Commenting recently on Prof Muir's report, the Scottish Government said the document had been received and that its recommendations were being considered. "We expect the report will be published in the Spring and the Education Secretary will set out our response to Parliament at that point,” a spokeswoman added.