A new education super-agency is to replace Scotland’s school standards body as part of wide-ranging efforts aimed at boosting quality.

With responsibility for assessment, curriculum, teaching, and learning, it will take over from Education Scotland in a bid to “improve outcomes and build trust”. 

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Education Secretary, unveiled the change in a statement to MSPs yesterday afternoon. It is among a range of newly announced measures, which include replacement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the creation of an independent inspectorate.

“Scottish education has much to be proud of but the system needs to evolve and improve,” Ms Somerville said. However, political opponents accused her of “frittering away” more opportunities for meaningful reform.

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The statement was made in response to a report by Professor Ken Muir, former chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. His work was informed by a national consultation involving learners, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders.

Prof Muir’s report also comes after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published analysis that highlighted major flaws in the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). These include a failure to align the broad general education – which is delivered between the ages of three and 15 – with the senior phase in S4-6. 

Released last year, the OECD review also says young people preparing to sit exams find school lessons “boring” due to an excessive focus on memorisation and rote-learning. It states: “CfE was characterised to the OECD team as a ‘clash between 19th century assessment and 21st century curriculum’.”

Among a raft of recommendations presented by OECD authors were proposals for a new curriculum and assessment agency. However, Prof Muir said the consultation had convinced him that creating a new body focused only on curriculum and assessment would not be enough to secure educational improvement.

The Herald: The latest changes have been announced after an OECD report criticised aspects of Scottish education, particularly pupil assessment arrangements.The latest changes have been announced after an OECD report criticised aspects of Scottish education, particularly pupil assessment arrangements. His report states: “The prime focus of such an agency should be on supporting every individual learner and those teachers and practitioners that support their learning. By developing a close understanding of practice in Scotland’s schools, the agency will also be well placed to advise the Scottish Government on the development of policies related to curriculum, assessment, learning, and teaching.

“I am convinced that such an agency, with a broader remit than perhaps was originally envisaged by the OECD, would act to bring policy and practice much closer together.”

Backing the recommendation, Ms Somerville told MSPs that the new agency would “provide excellent leadership and support for curriculum, assessment, learning and teaching, while also having a lead role in relation to Curriculum for Excellence”.

She added: “My announcements today are significant and are designed to strengthen the education landscape and to provide clarity and coherence. However, if we are to place learners at the centre of our education system we must also reform the culture of bodies and indeed the system itself. Professor Muir’s message in this respect is challenging and we must all do more.

“Our renewed system must reflect the culture and values we want to see embedded throughout; it must be a system that puts learners at the centre and provides excellent support for our teachers and practitioners.”

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Oliver Mundell, Shadow Education Secretary for the Scottish Conservatives, said Ms Somerville’s statement was a disappointment. “The SNP have frittered away another opportunity to fix our broken education system,” he added. “Pupils, teachers and parents were promised a new strategy, but it seems the SNP are only willing to commit to cosmetic changes, rather than addressing the failures at the heart of our education system.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: “There is an opportunity in a post-pandemic recovery period to side-line the interminable party politicking around education and to put teachers centre stage in an empowered education system that is focussed on teaching and learning, on pupil and teacher well-being, and on education recovery.”

Gayle Gorman, chief executive and chief inspector of Education Scotland, said: "We welcome today’s announcement by the Cabinet Secretary setting out her vision for Scotland’s reformed education system.

"We will continue to work closely and flexibly with Scottish Government and other partners as these changes are considered and implemented.

"As always, we are committed to supporting the needs of learners and educators across Scotland and that will remain our priority throughout this period of transition for the education system."

The Herald: Gayle Gorman is Education Scotland chief executive and chief inspector.Gayle Gorman is Education Scotland chief executive and chief inspector.

David Middleton, SQA chair, said: “Today’s announcement is an important one which provides some clarity on the way forward for our staff and our customers.

“We are pleased that the announcement recognises the strength and coherence in our broad range of functions and that much of these will stay together in a new qualifications body.

“We are disappointed in some aspects of Professor Muir’s report, particularly the recommendation that accreditation should be removed since it already operates independently of our awarding function. We are pleased that the Scottish Government recognises that further consideration of this issue is needed."  

He added: “Our job now is to continue to deliver for learners, schools, colleges and our other customers while working with others to ensure a smooth transition to the new body. We also recognise that this announcement brings significant opportunities for change and for ensuring learners, teachers and lecturers are at the heart of the education system.”