Scotland’s “very complex” system of assessment often makes it hard to tell if Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is succeeding, experts from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said today.
But the OECD, when asked about the overall standing of Scottish education internationally, also said that it provides “an example of high performance”.
In the first meeting of the new parliamentary session for the renamed Education, Children and Young People Committee – its predecessor in the last Parliament was the Education and Skills Committee – MSPs quizzed two OECD experts about their major review of CfE published in June, which was followed up by another OECD report at the end of August, this time with a focus on assessment.
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Here are some of the key points made by Beatriz Pont, senior analyst for policy advice and implementation at the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills, and Romane Viennet, an education policy analyst at the directorate:
1. Scottish education performs highly in a new measure of “global competence”.
2. The pursuit of equity in education in Scotland is also praised.
3. Teachers’ class-contact time in Scotland is very high in international terms.
4. It is difficult to track pupils’ progress in CfE because there are so many data points this can be checked against, said Dr Pont, and “assessment is not fully providing information about whether Curriculum for Excellence is succeeding”.
Two pluses and two minuses for Scottish education in under a minute, from the OECD evidence to the Scottish Parliament's education committee yesterday. https://t.co/zLVqzNTnqm— Henry Hepburn (@Henry_Hepburn) September 9, 2021
5. When committee deputy convener and SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart – a teacher of many years until her election in May – asked about the overall standing of Scottish education internationally, Dr Pont replied that Scottish education provides “an example of high performance”.
6. The system of assessment in Scotland is “very complex“, according to Dr Pont, who said this was the better description after initially describing it as “very confusing”.
7. The narrow learning of the “two-term dash” in the senior phase, said Dr Pont, is “hindering the [educational] experience of many young people”.
8. The Scottish Standardised National Assessments are “not the most appropriate mechanism” for measuring the impact of Curriculum for Excellence, said Ms Viennet.
OECD at Parliament's edu committee today + we've already heard that Scottish edu impresses in:— Henry Hepburn (@Henry_Hepburn) September 8, 2021
-New measure of 'global competence' (story below)
-Teachers in classes more than in most countries
-Difficult to track CfE progress because so many data points.
9. A number of senior students told the OECD researchers that they did not feel fully prepared for senior phase. Dr Pont suggested there was “a little bit more” room for knowledge in the broad general education before the senior phase – although, in the senior phase, there was currently too much emphasis on knowledge, and Scotland had to get the balance right on that. Ms Viennet added that senior phase assessment focused too much on memory as opposed to how students use knowledge effectively.
10. Anecdotal evidence from parents suggests that a plus point of CfE is pupils’ improved ability to articulate their views “very cogently”, said Dr Pont.
11. The important contribution of further education colleges in widening learning opportunities for secondary school pupils in Scotland was noted by Dr Pont.
12. Education in Scotland is overly political, argued Dr Pont, who said that too often “the politics overtakes the policy”.
There was an angry exchange at today’s meeting after Conservative members of the committee attempted to undermine the credibility of the OECD report by questioning the validity and impartiality of the processes leading up to its publication.
The Tories argued, for example, that there had not been a wide enough range of experts consulted by the OECD and that critical voices had been sidelined.
Dr Pont replied that critical figures such as Keir Bloomer, chair of the Commission on School Reform, were spoken to by the OECD.
When asked if the research team had interviewed Lindsay Paterson, of the University of Edinburgh, Dr Pont said the OECD did not speak to Professor Paterson but that it had read his views before publishing the report in June. Tory MSP Oliver Mundell, the shadow education secretary, responded by saying it was “shocking” that the OECD did not speak to Professor Paterson.
James Dornan, of the SNP – a former education committee convener – said that Mr Mundell’s intervention was “highly embarrassing” for the committee, and that his Tory counterpart seemed to be pushing a “conspiracy theory” that June’s OECD report was controlled by the Scottish government.