Hayward review of qualifications and assessment

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) was pleased to engage with Professor Louise Hayward’s independent review of qualifications and assessment. The RSE has been following and contributing to the present education reform agenda, having responded to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) review of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the Muir review, and the national discussion on education, and welcomes the potential for significant and systemic transformation to serve the best interests of learners, employers, and Scottish society.


Qualifications and assessment differ in their purpose and while assessments are used as the basis for awarding/attaining qualifications, not all assessments will or should form part of qualifications.

It is essential that the present reform agenda include a consideration of what assessment is for how it is undertaken, and how it can be used to inform qualifications. Similarly, Scotland must consider the purpose of a qualification, who uses it, and what knowledge and skills it says the recipient possesses.

There is an aspiration to achieve the four capacities for all learners. Information on the approach being taken to their development is therefore an important component to not only ensure progress but also to provide societal recognition of the importance of these aspects of our education system. The way in which this information is gathered in each of the four capacities should be appropriate to the nature of the learning and skills developed, with care taken to be as unintrusive as possible.

The RSE has done considerable work on interdisciplinary learning (IDL), one of the four contexts. Subject-specific knowledge is no longer the primary determinant of suitability in the majority of graduate recruitment. What matters more are transferable skills and attributes, breadth of knowledge and experience, cross-disciplinary thinking, and problem-solving capabilities. IDL does not easily lend itself to traditional assessment and creative assessment methods will need to be researched and developed to support its delivery.

Gathering evidence on learners’ skills and competencies is becoming critical in an increasingly skills-driven 21st century world. Knowing how to learn and motivating learners to want to learn is fast becoming more important than what they learn. A decisive shift away from national, standardised knowledge-based testing as the sole means of assessment across the senior phase is implied.

A way forward could be the introduction of task-based portfolios – not just in the senior phase, but more widely in educational practice across further education (FE) and higher education (HE) that are flexible and portable across many different progression pathways. Coupled to this is the need for educators and qualification designers to have the corresponding freedom to adapt and reshape qualifications in response to dynamic industry norms.

The RSE supports the move to a more holistic and flexible system of assessment that allows learners to demonstrate their understanding and capacity for problem-solving in a variety of ways and is more in tune with the needs of employers and the skills and competencies required for the future.

There must be a culture shift wherein society learns to trust and respect teachers as professionals with the capability to accurately assess student attainment as a vital complement to traditional assessment approaches. However, the profession will require wholesale support in reaching this stage.

As the RSE noted in its response to the Muir review, there is a fundamental need for a clear and universally supported definition of what is expected at the end of each stage of education in Scotland, with respect to the content of learning, level of attainment, and qualifications to be acquired, if any. Further, the lack of a seamless progression in learner pathways from Broad General Education (BGE) to senior phase qualifications, in whatever form these may emerge, seems to be the central and most important challenge to Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as it is currently structured.

Digital advances, e.g. artificial intelligence, will play a more significant role in the future of education and children’s lives more generally and they have a significant role to play in assessment. Whilst there are some challenges in terms of accessibility, equity and efficacy, these methods bring opportunities for a wider range of assessment techniques, as well as raise fundamental questions about approaches to assessment itself. On the topic of equity, we must ensure that learners are able to access and successfully use these technologies.

It is vital that young people are supported in deriving maximum benefits from their talents and skills and are given a clear understanding of the benefits of different learning and career pathways, rather than being directed towards destinations that may not suit them. Changing this mindset will require a widespread cultural shift. This shift will take time as learners, teachers, parents, and society in general adapt to new ways of conceptualising ‘success.’

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