Work needed to improve SQA and tackle impact of exam system on workload

17 Jan

Urgent work is needed by the SQA to rebuild its relationship with teachers, according to a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee.

The report, Performance and Role of Key Education and Skills Bodies, follows scrutiny of four key public bodies charged with developing and implementing education and skills policy: the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and Education Scotland. 

The Committee heard a wide range of frustrations from teachers, including issues with excessive and unclear guidance, complex administration and mistakes in exam papers issued by the SQA.

The Committee’s report includes the following recommendations:

Skills Development Scotland

  • The Committee calls for an Equality Impact Assessment to be done on all of its programmes as a matter of urgency to ensure its programmes are equally accessible to all Scotland’s young people.
  • An assessment should be made of how SDS meets the needs of rural areas.

Scottish Funding Council

  • The Committee is concerned that the Scottish Government has not provided evidence to support plans to scrap the SFC’s board and create a combined board for all of the enterprise and skills agencies.
  • SFC should undertake work to better understand the reasons why students do not complete college courses.


  • Improvements should be made in the design, delivery, supporting documents and marking of national qualifications and the SQA’s communication with teachers.
  • Efforts should be focused on ensuring that there are no errors in either the production or marking of exams.
  • Data collection from chief invigilators should be improved to ensure that the living wage is paid to all the people it appoints.

Education Scotland

  • Clarity is needed on who is the decision taker in different areas of the Curriculum for Excellence.
  • The Committee urges Education Scotland to consider what can be done to address the consequences of lack of measurement and collection of outcome based data at the start of the Curriculum for Excellence.
  • The Committee is concerned that the number of inspections appears to be reducing given the key role of inspections in understanding how well the education system is performing.

Jennifer Barnes, Voice’s Senior Professional Officer (Scotland), welcomed the report, which reflects widely-felt concerns about the adverse impact of the exam system on the workload of secondary practitioners. She said:

“Voice Scotland continues to raise the issue of workload with the Scottish Government.  Practitioners’ workload must be tackled effectively in order to create sufficient capacity within the system for a greater focus on closing the attainment gap.

“In an ideal world it would go without saying that the SQA should be ensuring that there are no errors in either the production or marking of exams.

“The issues which have arisen with particular exams, for example, the recent Higher Geography and National 5 Computing Science papers, have not only shaken the trust and confidence of practitioners in the SQA, but also of young people and of the wider public, so this requires urgent redress.

“Voice Scotland would be pleased to offer its support to the work of the SQA in implementing the report’s recommendations.”

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