A Scottish think tank has outlined its priorities for education, saying the system is “coasting” and the opportunities pupils are given are of “good quality but not world leading”.
The commission argues that Scottish education has become “dangerously over-centralised” and that “a culture of compliance has developed”, which is “inhibiting innovation”.
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It is calling for “greatly increased school autonomy”, with “critical decisions” taken by headteachers, staff and other stakeholders, which are “not subject to external reversal”.
The commission also wants to see the creation of “an extensive programme of teacher professional development”, which promotes “leadership and independent thinking” and which makes it explicit that teachers have a responsibility “to offer constructive challenge to authority”.
The commission says Education Scotland should be abolished and an independent inspectorate established, “overseen by a board independent of government influence and answerable to Parliament”.
When it comes to exams, the commission says frustration with the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s (SQA) handling of assessment during the coronavirus pandemic has prompted some critics to suggest that formal examinations should be abolished entirely and replaced by assessments of coursework.
It says it believes “this would be profoundly mistaken”, adding: “The objectivity of examinations and their freedom from plagiarism and outside help are of great value. A blend of different kinds of assessment has great merit.”
However, it says the Scottish qualifications system should be reviewed during the next Parliament and, in the shorter term, the validity of exams should be improved by “reducing reliance on simple recall”.
It also says it should be clarified that schools can bypass the SQA and are “entitled to secure examination and certification services from the supplier of their choice”.
An Education Manifesto for 2021 and Beyond also includes the following recommendations:
- Tutor support, additional time in school and “a more balanced pattern of holidays” to mitigate the “disastrous impact” of the pandemic on education.
- A new sample survey of key areas of the curriculum in primary and secondary, and rejoining of the international Trends in International Maths and Science and Progress in International Reading Literacy studies.
- The restoration of the traditional breadth of the S4 curriculum.
- A career structure and professional development for all early years staff “to raise the quality of provision”.
Keir Bloomer, the chair of the Commission on School Reform, who was involved in the early design of Curriculum for Excellence, said: “Scottish school education is coasting. It lacks creativity, and it lacks the capacity for innovation.
“We should not disparage our schooling for poor quality but nor should we deceive ourselves into believing that it is world leading. It is not.
“If we want to be proud of our schooling system, and to be able to credibly claim it to be world leading, we need seismic change. What the commission proposes in this manifesto can be the start of a renaissance in Scotland’s schooling.
“However, it is up to politicians to make this happen. Our future is in their hands.”