Education Bill provisions consultation
The RSE welcomes this consultation on the provisions of the Education Bill, which follows several interlinked consultations commissioned by Scottish Government, including Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Future Vision for Scottish Education undertaken by Professor Ken Muir (March 2022); All Learners in Scotland Matter: Our National Discussion on Education facilitated by Professors Carol Campbell and Alma Harris (May 2023) the Independent Review of the Skills Landscape undertaken by James Withers (June 2023); It’s Our Future: Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment undertaken by Professor Louise Hayward (June 2023); and the Purpose and Principles for Post-school Education, Research, and Skills (June 2023).
The establishment of a new qualifications body and reformation of inspection, as outlined in this consultation document, have the potential to play a partial role in delivering systemic educational change alongside other aspects of the reform agenda. However, the RSE stresses the importance of looking at these changes in the context of the need for more profound systemic transformation. For example, whilst the RSE welcomes further engagement on the nature and form of qualifications, we refer to the existing recommendations arising from the independent review of qualifications and assessment, which we have broadly supported in previous responses, and the need to ensure these are satisfactorily implemented before pursuing further consultation. The structural changes proposed to the qualifications body in this document are no substitute for the fundamental culture change required to develop a reflective, self-critical, responsive education system capable of continuous improvement, and deliver qualifications that are fit for the future.
The RSE notes potential issues associated with the timing of this consultation, having taken submissions ahead of the Scottish Government’s 2024/25 budget. It must be recognised that funds will be required to support the kind of organisational and structural reform outlined in the consultation document, and these must now take place in the context of the education reform budget being cut by £1 million (vs 2023/24). There is therefore a serious concern that any recommendations arising from this consultation will be overlooked in favour of other priorities and that the accompanying recommendations will therefore not be implemented properly, missing yet another opportunity to create a step change in the way we do qualifications in Scotland.
The RSE notes that the Muir review was tasked with exploring the possibility of establishing an integrated curriculum and assessment agency to address the OECD’s finding that curriculum for excellence (CfE) is heavily dictated by a focus on qualifications. The Muir review ultimately concluded that such an agency should have an even broader remit than just curriculum and assessment and instead function as a single national education agency for Scotland. The view was that this would bring policy and practice closer together and allow for greater stakeholder engagement. It is surprising that the current consultation does not mention this other agency and any associated plans for its establishment. As the Education Bill progresses and a new qualifications and assessment body is developed, it will be critical not to lose sight of the curriculum in the reform agenda. We cannot enact changes to the qualifications and assessment system in isolation of the curriculum, which must be equally scrutinised to ensure it meets the needs of learners in the present day and prepares them for successful futures.