Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank


Commission on School Reform says both exams and coursework must have a role

The Commission on School Reform, the independent group of education experts set up by the think tank Reform Scotland, today calls for a full-scale public review of assessment in schools.

The Commission, which is composed of teachers and other education experts, believes that the two-year exam shutdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic gives Scotland an opportunity to consider properly, and for the first time in recent memory, how we assess achievement.

The Commission has identified merit in both examinations and coursework, but sees the need for the Scottish Qualifications Authority to set out the country’s principles when it comes to mixing assessment between both.

The report – which can be read below – calls for a review to cover:

  • The purpose of assessment
  • The role of external assessment to ensure equality of opportunity
  • The complementary strengths of exams and coursework
  • The value of anonymous marking of coursework
  • The role of different types of assessment at different stages
  • The role of educational technology

Coronavirus has been an enormous and sadly enduring cloud over Scottish education and our current generation of school pupils.

“However, we must try to take advantage of this opportunity for review and improvement, particularly in relation to assessment for qualifications.

“With an end to closures now in sight, it is time to turn our attention to how to recover the learning that has been lost. We estimate it at sixteen weeks and have suggested an eight-hour extension to the school week for two years, or a five hour extension over three years.

“Pupils deserve a fair assessment system which effectively measures their knowledge and skills in a manner appropriate to each subject, and appropriate to future learning. Scotland’s assessment system must inspire confidence in pupils, teachers, parents and the wider public.”

Carole Ford, former headteacher and member of the Commission on School Reform

“Scotland’s system of assessment was a pioneer internationally in the early twentieth century, but since then has grown haphazardly with inconsistent attention to long-term planning. The Covid crisis has provoked a new debate about exams versus coursework, which is producing more heat than light. The claim that exams ought to be abolished is being made without any attention to what exams have achieved and what they can still do in ensuring fairness and equality of opportunity.

In truth, the current debate is missing the key point, which is that both exams and coursework have a role to play.

“A full-scale public review would help us reach the correct answer, and act as a piece of the puzzle as we try to make our education system world-leading again.”

Lindsay Paterson, member of the Commission on School Reform, and professor of education policy at Edinburgh University

Notes to editors

  1. The report – Assessment and Equal Opportunities in Scottish Secondary Schools: the role of examinations and coursework – can be downloaded below.
  2. The Commission on School Reform was set up by Reform Scotland and the Centre of Scottish Public Policy. More information, including its membership, can be seen here.
  3. Reform Scotland is Scotland’s independent, non-partisan think tank, with a commitment to: 
  • Increasing prosperity
  • A positive climate for entrepreneurs and innovators
  • Reform and modernisation of public services
  • Widening opportunity for all
  • Compassion for those who slip through the cracks
  • Greater courage and appetite for risk among policy-makers.

Media: for more information contact Message Matters (Andy Maciver, [email protected], 07855 261 244)


Assessment and Equal Opportunities in Scottish Secondary Schools: the role of examinations and coursework