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by Louise Wilson
31 August 2021
OECD calls for ‘decluttering’ of secondary school exams

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OECD calls for ‘decluttering’ of secondary school exams

Replacing national exams at the end of S4 with a school graduation certificate may help to better align school assessments with the aims of the curriculum for excellence, the OECD has said.

Publishing its paper on school assessments, the OECD said that having pupils sit three exam diets over three years resulted in a secondary school experience “dominated by examination preparation”.

This contrasts with the aims of the curriculum for excellence, particularly the delivery of a broad general education in primary school.

The OECD suggests Scotland should consider “de-cluttering” S4-6 and “consider alternative ways to acknowledge the end of compulsory schooling” in particular.

The report was commissioned by the Scottish Government following the cancellation of exams for two years in a row due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teacher assessments have been used to award certification instead, a marked change from previous years.

The government had asked the OECD to review the curriculum for excellence following concerns about the way the SQA had made awards last year, which led to thousands of students being downgraded because their school has not performed well historically.

Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed an overhaul of the SQA and Education Scotland before the summer, after the OECD recommended the government should create a "specialist stand-alone agency responsible for curriculum (and perhaps assessment)".

This second intervention by the OECD builds on this first review, specifically considering exams and grading.

Other suggestions for reform include decentralising the assessment system and giving continuous teacher assessment a more central role, which it says would ensure students were assessed on the entire curriculum.

It says traditional exams mean only a “a limited range of knowledge and skills can be assessed” and does not allow students to demonstrated less tangible skills, such as collaboration and creativity.

The review also called for more use of oral presentations and practical assessments, including greater use of IT to incorporate e-portfolios and interactive exams.

The report has been welcomed by Somerville. She said: “This will form part of our work to ensure that every part of our education system is designed so that young people can demonstrate their full potential.

“I will update parliament on how this work will be taken forward and on the on-going implementation of OECD recommendations on curriculum for excellence in due course.”

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