Teaching qualifications

SQA accused of seeking to alter landmark education report

Scotland’s national examinations body has been accused of seeking to alter a landmark education report to ‘save its own skin’.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats say a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had asked the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to make changes to its independent Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) review project. This included a “key theme” which he acknowledged linked to “recommendations, including organizational reform”.

Publication of the document led to departmental plans to replace the SQA and scrap inspections by standards body Education Scotland.

Ministers recently confirmed that they had received a follow-up report on the progress of the reforms from Professor Ken Muir, former chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. They expect to publish it in the spring, when Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville will also present her response to Parliament.

But the Liberal Democrats say their haul of FOI documents reveals the Scottish Government and its agencies were trying to influence the content of the report, creating a possible ripple effect for its recommendations and findings.

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They also say the freedom of information request, which was first reported in The Times on Wednesday morning, shows that the SQA and its chief executive, Fiona Robertson, are “fact-checking” the draft report. the OECD.

They say this includes the agency and Ms Robertson challenging what was described as “one of the key themes that emerges” in the document and which is also used as “the basis for a number of recommendations, including organizational reform”. The OECD draft stating that “there does not yet appear to be a successful alignment of senior stage qualifications and examinations with the CfE vision”. The SQA argued in its fact check that this lacked evidence and context.

One version of the line was withheld in the final report, with the SQA publicly contesting it. However, the Liberal Democrats insist the new documents show the agency sought to have that section changed before the report was released.

The party also pointed to how it had previously discovered that the Scottish government was in possession of the draft OECD report. This prompted accusations that ministers were editing it.

Willie Rennie said there were a lot of questions to answer.

Willie Rennie, education spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: ‘The Scottish Government and its agencies have regularly incorporated and exercised the right of ‘fact-checking’ independent reporting. Again, this doesn’t tell a fraction of the story of what was going on behind the scenes.

“This transport of documents confirms that there have been efforts to influence the content and key themes of the report, with a possible ripple effect on its recommendations and results.

“The chief executive of the SQA tried to obtain changes on a theme of a report which it was known could be used to justify the reform of the organization, or even its dissolution. It was the SQA trying to save his skin.

“Only John Swinney and the SNP could set up an independent review of Scottish education, but schedule months of ministerial editing and poker jigging through their own fact-checking service.

“These documents should trigger the release of all other documents that are kept secret.”

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On the issue of the Scottish Government’s refusal to provide its equivalent documents to The Times while the SQA provided its versions to the Liberal Democrats, Mr Rennie added: “This freedom of information request from the Scottish Liberal Democrats has plunged the account rendering of the Scottish Government on its handling of the OECD report in complete disarray. Ministers now have many questions to answer.

“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, which sums up everything you need to know about what has been going on for years among those responsible for overseeing and managing Scottish education.”

A spokesperson for the SQA said: “The SQA was invited to comment on the draft report, based on our responsibilities and our expertise of the awarding and assessment system in Scotland. It was entirely owned by the OECD to consider the changes it wished to accept for the final report.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government recently said: “We have received Professor Muir’s report and are reviewing his recommendations. We anticipate that the report will be released in the spring and that the Education Secretary will present our response to Parliament at that time.

The Scottish government has also been approached to comment on Liberal Democrat claims about its handling of the OECD report.