Education Scotland: Move to break up schools watchdog

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MSPs have initiated moves aimed at breaking up Scotland’s schools watchdog and reforming the national qualifications body amid claims neither organisation is fit for purpose.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats say Education Scotland should be separated into independent inspection and policy functions.

And they want to see the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) overhauled so it is “grounded in the teaching profession and made more accountable”.

The party has accused the bodies of letting down teachers, pupils and parents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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On Wednesday, MSPs will be asked to vote to break up Education Scotland and reform the SQA. 

The Lib Dems have also highlighted party research which they claim shows the Scottish Government and its agencies are spending months “providing comments” on multiple drafts of an ongoing OECD analysis of Scottish education.

Ministers have already been accused of a “stitch-up” after it emerged the review, which will only be published after May’s Holyrood election, has already been delivered to the government.

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Keir Bloomer, a key architect of Scotland’s curriculum, criticised the delay.

He told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme that he could not see any reason for delaying publication until June.

“The whole purpose of the OECD review was so that we can learn from the many, many mistakes which have been made in the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence,” he said.

“The sooner the report is in the public domain, the better.

“The only reason the government can possibly have for seeking to maintain secrecy over this review is that it’s trying to get the OECD to alter what it says, and that to my mind is completely insupportable.”

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “Education Scotland and the SQA’s days are numbered. They have let hardworking teachers, pupils and parents down throughout this pandemic. 

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.

“At a time of disruption and worry, instead of making peoples’ jobs and lives easier, they have made them harder.

“Despite months of warnings, the SQA and John Swinney teamed up to create an exams system and algorithm that actively penalised pupils from the poorest backgrounds.

“After Education Scotland previously gave teachers 20,000 pages of guidance on Curriculum for Excellence, during this pandemic they have gone to the other end of the scale and been totally absent when people needed them.

“Both of the Scottish Government’s education quangos have lost the confidence of those who they are supposed to serve and have repeatedly shown that they are not fit for purpose.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats will this week ask Parliament to overhaul them as an essential part of the recovery of education. Education Scotland and the SQA cannot be trusted with the critical job of helping the education system bounce back.” 

 Is it right that the SQA should take a kicking while the Scottish Government looks on?

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart added: “There is a conflict of interest in the very foundations of Education Scotland. As both the inspector and policy setter, it has been marking its own homework for years.

“This week Scottish Liberal Democrats uncovered it is also marking the homework of the OECD. Along with the Scottish Government and the SQA, they are already editing a report that was supposed to put their performance under the microscope. They have been self-serving, remote and unaccountable for too long.”

The Scottish government said the OECD’s review was still ongoing.

 Scotland’s global reputation for quality education ‘at risk’

A spokesman told the BBC: “The OECD has been engaging virtually with stakeholders over the last few months and have met with a wide range of education bodies as well as undertaking virtual school visits.

“They will be holding an engagement event at the beginning of March, where they will share emerging messages with stakeholders, providing a further opportunity for key partners and practitioners in Scotland to inform the final report, which will be published in June 2021.”

Education Scotland and the SQA have been contacted for comment.

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