A REVIEW of the heavily criticised Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Education Scotland must be completely independent and take most of its evidence from teachers, pupils and parents, according to an education expert.

Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University said the proceedings should also be fully public.

His demand for teachers, pupils and parents to be given a fair hearing has been echoed by the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) who said reform must be “substantial”.

Their calls came in the wake of the announcement by new Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville that a review would be held of both the SQA and Education Scotland following widespread criticism and anger over the way senior pupils have been assessed during the pandemic.

Professor Paterson, who has long been critical of the SQA, said: “The inquiry will be effective only if it is led by someone who is thoroughly independent of the SQA, Education Scotland, and the Scottish Government, and who also has a deep knowledge of Scottish education. It must be served by an independent secretariat that is not part of any of these bodies.”

He told the Sunday National it would have to take evidence from a much wider range of sources “than is commonly the case in such exercises”.

“For example, the enquiry would have to take most of its evidence from teachers, students and parents, and I mean many groups of individual people in these categories, not trade unions or other activist groups. These groups should be diverse in lots of ways – geographically, in different socio-economic circumstances, from different cultural contexts.”

He said it would also have to take evidence from employers, especially those who run extensive apprenticeship programmes, colleges, and universities.

“The inquiry should have the resources and capacity to compare how Scotland manages assessment and the curriculum with other countries.”

Only after gathering this evidence should the inquiry ask for evidence from the SQA, Education Scotland, the Scottish Government, and all the organisations that usually sit on Scottish Government committees, such as the EIS, Cosla, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and Connect, according to Professor Paterson.

He added that the inquiry should be given plenty of time to carry out a thorough review and that critics of the SQA, Education Scotland or the Scottish Government would have to be patient.

The SYP welcomed Sommerville’s announcement but warned that a review should not just end up with the same organisations being renamed.

“It has been clear to us that young people have not been at the centre of the education system and we see this as perfect opportunity for young people to be placed at the heart of it,” said spokesperson Sophie Reid.

She said there had been a lack of communication and engagement with young people, particularly since the pandemic hit, and that needed to change, especially now that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had been put into Scots law.

“Now is the perfect opportunity for them to put this in action and make sure young people’s voices are given the same worth as others,” said Reid. “It’s time for young people to co-produce and co-design new ways that the education system works.”

She said she hoped ending exams would be considered in favour of continuous assessment and also called for this year’s controversial appeals system to be changed to restore confidence in the system.

ANGER broke out last week when it was announced that although appeals would be free, grades could be downgraded as well as improved and there would be no allowances made for exceptional circumstance – even in the event of the death of a close family member.

“It is extremely disappointing that both of these things have been so ignored when they have been so widely called for,” said Reid.

“I think it is shocking that exceptional circumstances are not involved this year. We are facing a global pandemic but on top of that young people are facing other things in their lives that are making it even worse. People are having close family bereavements, mental health issues, some young people are young carers but none of this is being allowed to be considered.”

After the exams were cancelled last year, an alternative certification model was put in place but before the SYP was invited to join the National Qualifications Group.

Reid said the model might have worked better had there not been another lockdown but it should have been adjusted when it was clear time was running out for assessments.

“The way things have worked out means that time for the assessments has been squashed into about eight weeks and that is causing extreme stress and anxiety,” she said. “I think it is really important for us to ensure young people’s well being after the time they have had.”