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by Sofia Villegas
19 June 2024
In Context: Education (Scotland) Bill

In Context: Education (Scotland) Bill

Long-awaited reform to revamp Scottish schools’ performance

What is it about?

Almost a year later than initially planned, the Scottish Government has published the new Education Bill which will dissolve the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The legislation will replace the SQA with a new body Qualifications Scotland, and transfer inspection duties to a new office, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education in Scotland. If the bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament, both bodies are expected to be operational from Autumn 2025. 

Why is there a new bill?

In 2021, the Scottish Government announced it was scrapping the SQA after an OECD – Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – report highlighted that the education system was too exam-focused. The body had also come under fire for its exams result fiasco during the pandemic.  

In 2022, the government then pledged to create three new bodies to overhaul the system, in the wake of a report by Professor Ken Muir. Since then, pressure for reform has increased after Scotland received record-low PISA ratings in maths and science in December. 

What will Qualifications Scotland do?

It will craft and devise qualifications “whether for itself or others to award”, excluding university degrees. 

Although it will not be a government body, it will follow Scottish ministers’ directions on areas including how it exercises duties. 
How will members be selected?

Qualifications Scotland will have up to 13 members, to be appointed by ministers. At least two of them will be teachers, two will be college teaching staff and one will represent the “interests of persons undertaking a relevant qualification”. Each member will be appointed to a four-year term, with an option to be re-elected later on. 

So what are the changes?

According to the bill, learners and students will have more power to hold the new body accountable. 

To enable this, Qualifications Scotland will set up two separate sub-committees, each representing the views of either students or practitioners. 

Meanwhile, it will also publish a learner’s charter and a separate teacher’s charter. The former will set out how the body will adapt processes to “meet the needs” of different learners while the latter will outline how the body will better support teachers and their concerns.
Each charter is to be revised every five years, with Qualifications Scotland publishing an annual report detailing what it has done to meet the expectations set out in its charters.

What is the role of the new chief inspectorate?

It will take inspection duties away from Education Scotland. 

Unlike Qualifications Scotland members, the King will appoint the new role, which will not have a fixed tenure.

Once selected, the inspector must devise an inspection plan, detailing the frequency and models of inspections, listing the establishments subject to inspection and the standards which they will be assessed against. 

The inspector will also publish an annual report on the performance of the Scottish education system and lay it before the parliament. 

Although the government has said the chief inspector will operate independently, Scottish ministers will still retain oversight and be able to request inspections.

So what will happen to Education Scotland?

Although not part of the bill’s provisions, the government has confirmed Education Scotland will no longer be replaced but “refocused” to “lead curriculum design, delivery and improvement”.

What have people been saying about the reform?

The Educational Institute of Scotland, Scotland’s largest teaching union, welcomed the review. However, its general secretary Andrea Bradley said it was “disappointing” that the government had rejected recommendations to separate the awarding and regulation functions of Qualifications Scotland.

Opposition parties are not satisfied with the reform plans either. Tory MSP Liam Kerr and Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie believe the new legislation does not go far enough, and have claimed it amounts to “little more than a name change” which tweaks rather than reforms Education Scotland.

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