By Alastair McConnell & Professor Ken Muir 

There has been a period of national consultation and review in Scottish Education over the last few years and a series of reports including OECD (2021), Stobart (2021), Muir (2022) and Withers (2023) have culminated in recommendations laid out in the 156 page “It’s Our Future: Report of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment” published on 22nd June 2023, often referred to as the Hayward Review.

These recommended changes stem from universal acknowledgement of intrinsic problems with the current system. There is a lack of depth of study in the senior phase, exemplified by reference to the “two-term dash”, especially in Higher courses. Three years of back-to-back examinations is now seen as unnecessary and detrimental to student welfare and breadth of learning. There is a lack of articulation and progression between different phases within the curriculum and a perceived focus on knowledge and understanding over recognition of valuable skills and competencies. The continuing lack of parity of esteem between academic and vocational/technical qualifications and the lack of recognition of achievement out with formal examinations.

Dissatisfaction with Scotland’s current approach to assessment and qualifications was also highlighted following the cancellation of examinations in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.  This was reflected in professional and public concern about fairness and widespread concern about the results and perceptions of inequity.

Stobart (2021) said, ‘The 2020 and 2021 COVID-19 pandemic has placed unique stresses on examinations systems in those countries where schools closed…… Those jurisdictions that relied solely on examination results experienced crises as procedures had to be hastily developed to determine grades. This was necessary for university and selection for the start of the university year. The COVID-19 related crises seem to reveal the vulnerability of systems that rely exclusively on the results of examinations taken under standardised conditions and scheduled at a fixed time. By comparison, those systems that draw on multiple forms of evidence were indeed able to adapt more flexibly’.

The recommendations by Hayward are quite radical and if adopted by the Scottish Government could see a significant shift in the experiences and qualifications of our future young learners. Consultation has been extensive and RSGS have submitted contributions to all stages of this. In addition, RSGS hosted an educational conference in February 2023 to discuss how Geography might fit into the various reforms that are being proposed for the future.

The report recommends the creation of a Scottish Diploma of Achievement, valuing and recognising the attainment and wider achievements of all learners throughout their time in school. This would act as a graduation certificate for senior phase educational settings, covering more than just academic results. The Diploma would recognise:

  1. Programmes of Learning - subject specific, but with better linked to Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and greater prominence and benchmarking given to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF);
  2. Personal pathways - individual achievement and self-reflection; and
  3. Project Learning - problem solving and interdisciplinary learning).

There would be an entitlement for all learners to experience all elements of the Diploma and a requirement for all elements to be completed, in order to gain the award. The Diploma itself would not be graded, but there would be grades assigned to the Programmes of Learning, essentially a continuation of the current practice where subjects are graded. A digital profile for each learner would be developed, allowing additional evidence of other achievements to be recognised. Parity of esteem between general pathways (academic) and professional and technical pathways (vocational) would be achieved through a greater emphasis on SCQF Levels rather than the use of hierarchical terminology like “Higher”.

In the Programmes for Learning section, it is recommended that National Qualifications Levels 1-7 would still be used, but WITH achievements captured through the year to avoid the much-criticised two-term dash. External assessments would be limited to just SCQF Levels 6 and 7, giving more time for learning and teaching. This would improve progression between stages and a broader range of assessments would be introduced to reduce the susceptibility for question prediction and over-rehearsal. Modularisation of courses would also be introduced, increasing flexibility.

The aim of the Personal Pathways section is to celebrate interests, competencies, and achievements. Learners would decide what is included, with an emphasis on what they have learned through these experiences and those in which they take most pride. There will be a need for teachers to provide some support to learners on their experiences in the early stages of their learning, but with learners taking responsibility for this as their journey progresses.

The Project Learning section will allow learners to integrate their knowledge and skills, bringing together experiences of relevance and interest to them. It is proposed that topics selected for the study may be at the discretion of the participant, for example tackling a global or local challenge. There should be a focus on interdisciplinary learning and this section should be an identifiable and distinct part of the school curriculum taking place throughout the senior phase. The expectation would be that this is internally assessed, with external moderation.

The Hayward recommendations are designed to provide a coherent and fully justified plan for curricular change that will prepare learners for the very different future in which they will live. The opportunities this provides for the enhanced relevance and importance of geographical learning cannot be over emphasised. Geography will still have its place as a knowledge and skills-based academic subject in the Programmes for Learning section and the skills and ethics intrinsic to our subject will be invaluable in the Project Learning section. The potential for enhanced value given to Project Learning and to community involvement and voluntary work in the Personal Pathways section will build on the local and global issues already raised daily in geography classrooms.