The head of Scotland’s national inspection and curriculum body, Education Scotland, has said she did not recognise her organisation as it was described in a recent parliamentary debate.
The debate led to a vote for Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to be substantially reformed as part of Covid education recovery plans.
This morning Education Scotland chief executive Gayle Gorman told the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee that she had followed the debate with “interest and disappointment”.
A motion – backed by a majority of MSPs – said that neither body was “fit for purpose” and that they had “lost the confidence of teachers, pupils and parents”.
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However, Ms Gorman argued that her organisation had “reduced pressure on the system” and made a “significant difference” to education during the coronavirus pandemic through the support it had provided to schools, teachers, pupils and local authorities.
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Meanwhile, the chief executive of the SQA, Fiona Robertson, said she shared Ms Gorman’s “sense of disappointment about some of the commentary on the work that has been undertaken”.
Ms Robertson said she was “very proud to lead a team of dedicated public servants” and that her organisation had worked “very, very hard” over the course of the past year and had been “very fleet of foot”.
The chief executives made their comments after being invited by the Scottish Conservatives' education spokesperson, Jamie Greene, to respond to the parliamentary motion that was carried by 65 to 58 votes on 17 February.
Defending her organisation, Ms Gorman said that Education Scotland had recently been restructured and redesigned and now had “a very different way of working“ than previously.
She also argued that the Education Scotland team had supported and delivered “improvement across Scottish education” during the pandemic.
She said it had provided the national e-learning platform, which had over half a million users, as well as providing professional learning and support for teachers through digilearn.scot. That service had 238,000 users and every time professional learning support was offered, it was “absolutely block-booked every single time”.
Ms Gorman added: “Our direct support to individual schools, local authorities, and RICs [regional improvement collaboratives] working alongside supporting – supporting adding capacity, supporting strategic leadership and developing contacts with schools across Scotland – has absolutely been fed back as making a significant difference.
“And that’s without beginning to think about our central role in CERG [the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group], and supporting CERG members, and working collaboratively with them to deliver guidance and support at a time of great uncertainty across Scottish education.
“Indeed, the SSTA [Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association], in their submission to this committee, recommend and recognise the role Education Scotland has played in reducing the pressure on the system through our work in stopping inspections early, supporting and addressing the needs of schools, and supporting teaching and learning, and welcome the detailed guidance and support materials coming from Education Scotland.
“So some of that debate I certainly did not recognise.”
Ms Gorman added that every organisation had had to “learn through the pandemic”.
For her part, Ms Robertson said that the SQA had to come up with an alternative way of assessing students this year, following the cancellation of the exams, at the same time as delivering modifications to “a huge range” of qualifications.
She added: “SQA does not sit apart from the system – it is very much part of the system. In a normal year, we would be working with many thousands of teachers as appointees. We continue to work with teachers in developing the approach and we get very positive feedback about the work that we are doing.
“We have had to review everything that we do in very short order and with a huge amount of scrutiny – perfectly suitable scrutiny, but we have had to be very fleet of foot to ensure that we can continue to deliver. That has been challenging but I share that sense of disappointment about some of the commentary on the work that has been undertaken.
“But, as Gayle has also said, it is important that we are a learning organisation and, of course, we will learn and reflect on the circumstances of last year as we move forward. I think all parts of the public sector will be doing that as we consider issues going forward. But I must stress that we have worked very, very hard during the course of the last year to deliver.”
Yesterday, Tes Scotland reported that the country's education directors had joined calls for exam reform following the pandemic by urging a review of national qualifications.