Scrapping National 5 exams in favour of a school graduation certificate is one option put forward by an education expert examining possible reforms of the education system.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) appointed Oxford University professor, Gordon Stobart, to devise options for Scotland’s future approach to assessment and qualifications.
He compared Scotland’s system with those in nine other places worldwide, including England, Wales, Ireland, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Norway.
Professor Stobart praised Scotland’s controversial Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as a “a pioneering example of 21st century curriculum reform” but said it “loses strength” in the senior years as there can be a focus on “teaching to the test”.
He lists six options for possible reform of assessments and qualifications so they align more closely with the CfE.
As well as “de-cluttering” S4 and S5 assessment by possibly scrapping National 5 exams, further options include an S4-S6 qualification system combining teacher assessment and exams.
He said: “Many students are involved in traditional examinations for three consecutive years – a continuation of the historic ‘two term dash’.
“This diet of examinations may limit the depth and breadth of teaching and learning.”
He also suggests a possible decentralisation of the qualification system, following adaptations made amid the coronavirus pandemic when exams were cancelled.
“The Covid-19 experience of 2020-2021 could stimulate the option of further developing more localised and resilient models of assessment as schooling moves back to normal levels,” he said.
“It may well be that local solutions are more dependable. Schools, rather than the central agencies, have become the fall-back during the present crisis and proved they could cope.”
One option he recommends strongly is including pupils’ views in decisions around assessments, while highlighting that information available indicates they “would prefer a greater emphasis on continuous assessments by their teachers”.
A further option is increasing both the integration and status of vocational awards, while Prof Stobart also suggests increased use could be made of online exam resources and oral examinations as assessments.
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville welcomed the report.
She said: “Our decision to cancel exams as a result of the pandemic rightly sparked a great deal of discussion about the best way to recognise learners’ achievements and how we continue to meet their needs.
“That is why we asked the OECD to undertake this vital work and I welcome this important contribution from Professor Stobart, which is informed by how other countries run an assessment process.
“Working with teachers, parents and young people as well as other stakeholders, we will give full consideration to the options that Professor Stobart has outlined.”
She said it will be part of the work to ensure the education system is designed to enable young people to demonstrate their full potential and pledged to update Holyrood on this in due course.
Scottish Greens education spokesman, Ross Greer, said: “This report, secured by the Greens following last year’s SQA exams shambles, is most welcome and endorses our long-held policies for school assessments.”
He added: “We have the opportunity now to ditch this Victorian-era model of high stakes end of term exams and move towards systems of ongoing assessment which more accurately and fairly measure a pupil’s knowledge and abilities.”
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Oliver Mundell called on the SNP to restore traditional approaches, saying external exams are “one of the last remaining hallmarks of our once world-leading education system”.
“No Government serious about raising standards would even contemplate getting rid of them,” he added.
Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Michael Marra, said: “The past 18 months have shone a light on the deep inequality that exists in Scottish education, and the Government’s response has shown a total lack of ambition to meet the challenges we face.
“The SNP must act with the urgency needed, working with young people, teachers, and experts to decide how best to take forward the reform across Scottish education that is so badly needed.”