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

CSR Challenge Paper: Assessment & qualifications in Scotland’s schools

Commission on School Reform warns against scrapping S4 exam diet and offers alternative solutions that can be implemented now 

The Commission on School Reform, the independent group of education experts set up by the think tank Reform Scotland, has released a new ‘challenge paper’ on assessment and qualification in Scotland’s schools.

A report into exams and assessments in Scotland by Professor Louise Hayward is due to be published soon and is expected to suggest scrapping exams in S4.

The Commission’s paper, written by Carole Ford, a former head teacher of Kilmarnock Academy and former president of School Leaders Scotland, warns that assessment at the end of S4 serves a different purpose to assessment in S5/S6. It provides a reality check on progress so far, clarifies strengths and weaknesses, and offers a useful guide to fruitful routes to progress.

Instead of scrapping the diet, the paper outlines a series of recommendations which can be implemented now,maintaining the importance of assessment in S4 while also allowing additional learning time in S5. 

The recommendations include:

  • Separating the S4 assessment system from that of S5 and S6
  • Shortening the S4 assessment timetable and in turn lengthening by one term the Higher assessment timetable
  • Using external assessment data to moderate internal grades

“Assessment in S4 improves motivation and work rate throughout S3/S4. The removal of external assessment at the end of the National 4 courses has had a seriously negative impact on work rate and motivation, as many teachers will attest. On the other hand, assessment in S5/S6 leads to endpoint qualifications which offer entry to higher education, training or employment opportunities. There is no logical reason to tie these two assessment processes together.

“There are undoubtedly many problems in our exams system and Scottish pupils cannot continue to be subjected to a narrow, formulaic assessment system. A system which also fails to motivate a significant minority of pupils, exacerbating the serious behavioural issues in our schools.

“The Commission on School Reform’s paper highlights opportunities to reform the exam system now, immediately alleviating some of the most serious concerns.

“We can and should take action now on the processes that we, as teachers, know are causing problems. If we fail to do so, we fail yet more of Scotland’s children.”

Carole Ford, member of the Commission on School Reform


CSR Challenge Paper: Assessment and qualifications in Scotland’s schools