Monday, July 12, 2021

Towards A new Curriculum and Assessment Agency in Scotland

Image of desks laid out in an exam hall


Less than a year ago I watched political machinations around national awarding in Scotland and made some observations based on the extended experience of both working for SQA  and around the vocational system in Scotland , the rest of the UK and internationally. In the end, events pretty much turned out as I predicted, even to point of there being local academics engaged in the review.  

Then, this June, 2021,  in the middle of awarding season, the government announced that the SQA is to disappear and be replaced by a new Curriculum and Assessment Agency.  This in response to a critical OECD Report. The implications of which are far wider than national assessment. 

So what next, I don't expect any of the provisional grades for candidates to change between now and August and I fully anticipate another record breaking set of candidate results. 
It will be the same picture across the rest of the UK, with the exception that England , Wales and Northern Ireland haven't decided to dismantle their national awarding and accreditation infrastructure in the midst of a pandemic. So, at least in Scotland, we have a ready made scapegoat come August. 

It is time to reflect on : what we need from a national awarding body, what we expect of support agencies, funding bodies, audit and inspection organisations.

They are all, in one way or another, part of the mix.

What is missing is any real form of national discussion around what the future of schools assessment and certification should be. The Scottish government response to the OECD report is big on headlines but thin on detail. The press, including the educational press, tend to stick to the shallow end of any debate on national assessment systems.

BBC Radio Four ran an excellent series simply around thinking aloud about Re-Thinking Education with one programme dedicated to looking at alternatives to the current school exam system in England. I am not a big Lord Kenneth Baker fan but his opinions on ending any form of national assessment for 16 year olds is worth exploring. his thoughts on an academic vocational split at age 14 are abhorrent. 

I am concerned on two fronts. The populist decision to abolish the SQA does seem to ignore the fact that one way or another a new agency(s) will simply rise from the ashes. The timing  is appalling given the stresses and strains on the system, but it is perhaps that simple political expediency that heralds many education reforms, give them the big news just before schools and parliament go into summer recess. 

Lost in this and the only bit that has ever been in anyway exportable is the vocational education system founded in early 1980s by SCOTVEC and buried in the merger with the Scottish Examination Board on the creation of SQA.

In the worst scenario, asset strippers in the form of private sector awarding or the 'not for profit' awarding bodies in England will gladly hoover up SQA's commercial and overseas business and the receipts they brought to support national awarding in Scotland. I wouldn't even be surprised to see elements of Universities Scotland hovering around this area. 

Watch too as the Scottish government struggles with regulatory and other awarding requirements, when potentially the only alternative is the open market.

If the focus is just on schools then a new agency or vehicle needs established to look after vocational awarding in Scotland. It needs to be new and separate from agencies like SDS or SFC who fund the qualifications. Perhaps this is the new quality assurance agency for Universities and Colleges mooted in the SFC review papers and lauded here by Ewart Keep at least SFC talks about the tertiary education system and working with SQA and successor bodies in their Coherence and Sustainability Review.

Clarity here is needed quickly, vocational awards are at the heart of any economic recovery strategy. 

The loss of the SQA brand will damage awarding and accreditation business across the UK and the rest of the world. There will be live business and business in the pipeline at SQA that will all be contractually under threat currently due to uncertainties here. I am guessing not much consideration will have been given to this. 

While this uncertainty remains, I expect to see an exodus of specialist staff and general system stasis. A new national curriculum and assessment agency is not a quick build even if built from the building blocks that become available from a reconstituted Education Scotland and components of the SQA. 

But what about school assessment and certification ? Will removing SQA, rather than reforming the assessment system, solve the issues ?

In my view incessant power struggles over school curriculum and assessment held the whole Scottish system back. They certainly held SQA back from 2003 - 2015 while I was there and they were delaying things like HN reforms when I worked in the College sector immediately prior to that. I am guessing now there will be further delays around the HN Next Gen work which the College sector badly needs. We need reforms too around qualifications in the work based learning sector.

If the new curriculum and assessment body has a sole focus on schools, you then lose a lot of the economies of scale around things like on-line assessment and digital certification and data management and the technologies that are needed at the heart of reforms and organisations of this kind. 

I'll post separately on where the opportunities lie for a new sort of awarding agency for the public good.

Where will consensus on school assessment and certification come from ?

The school assessment system with its narrow subject and exam focus was not really about SQA but an image of what teachers and governments wanted.  To have a more flexible system it starts with the teachers and schools knowing and applying national standards, no matter what subject area, this could be in any domain or discipline, you can then have flexible assessment policies , it could all naturally flow through from the experiences and outcomes.

The awards that currently exist are shaped by subject panels from across the Scottish schools system to design rules approved by the CfE Management Board.

Having worked through the development of Curriculum for Excellence . The OECD Report is spot on in highlighting the disconnect between experiences and outcomes and assessment system.

 I think there was a confidence failure across the system in tackling this - there were some deeper challenges too in the creation and management of the experiences and outcomes and how learners transitioned from broad general education into the senior phase. Heads should have been together on this in Education Scotland , SQA and the sponsoring Education Department. I would put this outcome down to the failure of the CfE Board of Management over an extended number of years. 

The default position for school teachers does appear to be a written national exam at end of year. 

The tech and systems have been in place for years to support more innovative forms of assessment and certification but the school system has fought , resisted  and won battles to keep the exam system and year long courses, while maintaining glacial speed too on any curriculum changes. 

While the civil service and local authorities continued to embrace systems that only recognised achievement in exam based subjects. Universities like this too. I hope there is now a confidence in the system to tackle this.  It needs to be tackled system wide.  There will be a real drive in many quarters to ignore any learning from the last two years and get back to business as usual

I fear further insularism - the awarding system in schools needs to place learners more at centre , subject choice should not be determined by which school and where it is located , assessment should take a variety of forms and be ready when the candidate is ready - not annually and teachers should as matter of course be able to make accurate estimates on grading, and certification should be digital by default. 

It is where we have been heading for last two years but without properly having a system in place. Some of the disconnect between costs , expectation and delivery are long standing and need to be addressed, if any reform is to be a sustainable one. 

"The SQA levy to local authorities and entry fees charged to independent schools and colleges for the certification of national qualifications have remained unchanged since 2012-13. These fees contribute to the cost of awarding. The costs of awarding National Qualifications are greater than the contribution made by local authorities, independent schools and colleges."

"Scottish government funding in the financial year 2019-20 to the SQA was £41.4 million but, in 2020-21, that figure almost halved to £21 million"

Source https://www.tes.com/news/exam-cancellations-save-millions-second-year

As they shuffle the deckchairs, I think the focus will be lost on the national vocational system. I hope, given we have now had two years without national exams, the school system can now flex. 

By the end of the review process we should no longer have an exam hall, paper based, national diet of examinations for S4-S6 learners,  we owe them more and we should not have  lost our vocational awarding system. It is a challenging balance.   

Watch out too for the purveyors of state-wide assessment systems , GCSE Awards, T-Levels , A-Levels , International Baccalaureates of one form or another,  door stepping , carpet bagging,  the review , the new agency , local authorities, schools and probably Colleges too.  There are lots of commercial interests and political interests that swirl around this area globally. I expect some Scottish schools will drift towards A Levels as the saga unfolds. 

I wonder too if any of the OECD Report writers can highlight a country that has achieved the vision within their report. It is a strong and achievable vision if the system can finally all pull together. 

Ken Muir has a challenging year(s) ahead.  My thoughts are with my former colleagues continuing to deliver for Scotland's learners within the SQA. 

Further Reading Background:

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Contract Cheating


image of someone cheating in an exam


I was asked to respond to a paper on the incidence of contract cheating. Here are some thoughts. It is an old chestnut. There will always be those who seek to cheat the system and ultimately themselves. 

We know cheating is on the rise across education - but that is because we are identifying it with the safeguards we have in place. We are constantly providing further mitigation for a potential risk .

I am more comfortable that most forms of contract cheating - particularly from essay mills get picked up by Turnitin - the subtler a friend/parent wrote my assessment is the one that is much harder to mitigate against . The privileged cheats.

You can trick Turnitin - put an essay through auto translate a few times and then rewrite it - this could get you across the line - but you would need to be very careful about referencing and sources - as though your words would be different - they would stay the same. - but it is a lot more work than simply writing a paper. Though you may learn a lot in the process.

I think this all comes down to students making an assertion - as they do every time, they submit work to Turnitin that it's all their own work . In SQA land on portfolios we get teachers to sign off work too saying that they know work to be students own work - academic integrity is for staff and students to maintain.

Perhaps just a reminder that we use similarity detection software and tutors will ask about submitted work to ensure its integrity. I have a question; how empowered do staff feel about challenging the authenticity of a learner's work ? - we rarely get any staff members reporting this to LT team or asking us to investigate .

For students it's the black and white statement in the student code of conduct and disciplinary procedures, to effect, that cheating in assessments in any form is unacceptable and will result in disciplinary action including expulsion.

Does the College keep a record of issues , incidents ? I had access to this in other Colleges as Chair of Learning and Teaching Committee - we saw high level report on all disciplinary issues . Incidence of cheating was low 2003-2019 Anniesland , Clyde, and Kelvin Colleges - higher were disciplinary issues about student conduct in general - we tracked as part of equalities work.

I think in world we are in at moment - cheating could be impersonation and taking notes into a closed book assessment , whispering answer to a friend during a SOLAR multiple-choice assessment , or Whatsapping them - as our invigilation arrangements are perhaps a bit looser than normal due to circumstances.

Perhaps, a piece that makes sure that staff and students know and understand the assessment arrangements for any unit of learning and that these are conducted in a fair and accessible way .

I thought this among many sites offering advice to students on the pitfalls of contract cheating was done well

Turnitin offers advice too.

In end it all comes down too , to the quality of the questions .

There can only be so many essays on things like "Discuss the theme in Romeo and Juliet" , " Explain and evaluate six different organisational types " etc - Where we can the system should offer cleverer and more valid assessments - it makes learning more stimulating and interesting too and that would lower the temptation of plagiarism and make life harder for essay mills.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

We, they, did it again!, and you can too! #oerxdomains21 #Openscot #FEUKChat

 


We do talk a lot of jargon and acronyms in education. 

Please have a read at this.  I hope it makes sense. I live in a bubble of enthusiasts who want to make the world a better and fairer place. You can still be an idealist and be very grounded. When I say that with my Glasgow accent, believe me, you will be convinced. 

Great too that WonkeHE picked up on the conference.

Depressingly , open education is not a feature of the policies of any of the political parties in Scotland in next week's national elections. That's a great pity and shows that UNESCO policy and many years of lobbying still has to find traction in our venerable and perhaps too self righteous Scottish education system.  

When you put your head in the clouds - you come down with a bump.

My head was buzzing with ideas , links , contacts and as ever the global #OER community re-energised and reinvigorated me. Open should really be the way we do education and the final key note picking out open education as being the route to justice and empowerment was a great note to end on. If you are a policy maker perhaps find time to tune into that one session. If you work in any bit of the education system you will find some useful gems in the sessions all recorded and openly available.  Here is direct link to Rajiv's session.

It was great that this years #oer21 was delivered in partnership with the domains conference and became #OERxDomains21 . It meant that we had sessions on policy, practice and the platforms that can be used to deliver open voices and open education. I've a long list of open and cloud based software that I now need to have another look at. 

Special thanks to  Maren Deepwell, Emma-Jane Brazier, Fiona Jones, and now Christina Vines and the ALT posse for keeping the open education fire burning. 

Waving to my Conference co-chairs Jim Groom and Lauren Hanks , Lou Mycroft, and Louise Drumm who were all so great to collaborate with. 

In a UK context, more Colleges than ever before engaged with an open education conference. That is an important landmark. A special shout out too to Nicolas Garcia, Student President at City of Glasgow College , who was not in the least daunted and made a superb contribution to the opening plenary of an international education conference. I still hope we can bring this conference to City of Glasgow College in the future. 

The technology was simply inspiring and set a very high benchmark around how on-line conferences should be run. I am sure there will be a blog post that I will link to here . The short hand is that the team from Reclaim Hosting wove together Streamyard, YouTube and Discord to create a magical experience - you can capture some of it in the recorded proceedings .

Yes, I am a people person and I miss meeting everyone face to face - I don't miss conference travel and cold chicken buffets though, but I do miss conference bonhomie and meeting old friends and new. 

So down to earth  with a bump - back to planning where City of Glasgow College goes next for a virtual learning environment in August 21 and still explaining why positioning content in the VLE or even on the College intranet is not open education - in fact the discussions are actually pre that , it's explaining that encouraging staff to publish anything outside of the College in an accessible way is actually a very good thing for them and the College and most of all for learners , and an email arrived on Friday asking for support on staff and student digital literacies at a national level, an old chestnut , groundhog day.. the open education journey is a long and challenging one. 

For the ALT Scottish Community it's a more modest pow wow next Friday , where we will share two stars and a wish. 

I tweeted my way through the conference while chairing some brilliant sessions, I've curated a selection here. I can't name everyone here but respect and love to all who presented and participated in #oerxdomains21 and I am certain we will meet up further down the trail. It was a pleasure to be involved. 



I even bought the t-shirt 


Think it is fitting I open and close this post with the great art work of Bryan Mathers it was a critical element in pulling proceedings together. 






Thursday, April 08, 2021

OERXDomains21 Conference 21-22 April Tune In #openscot #OERXDomains21


Registration is open and conference numbers are growing hour by hour.  Just a reminder to book your place   and a reminder too especially to those in the further education community not used to paying conference fees that
  1. This is great value to get a grip on what you should be doing to open up your own learning materials at institutional and as an individual.
  2. If you struggle to get institutional sponsorship - there are still scholarship places available. 

Yesterday I got a great run through of the open technology that will be used to stream the conference. The conference will be run through Streamyard through to a YouTube Live broadcast for each session with dedicated social spaces provided by Discord 

And fabulous graphics by Bryan Mathers https://remixer.visualthinkery.com/

Looking forward to seeing your press pass !


Here's my streamyard test piece 


And find out more about Streamyard here 


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Innovation in Adversity : Discover #OERxDomains21 Online – 21-22 April 2021

thanks to Gabriel Vivas for image under Creative Commons Licence 


I am delighted to be a co-chair of #OERxDomains21 with an inspirational set of co-chairs and an amazing conference committee.

There is still time to get a proposal in and to sign up for the conference.

Theme 1: Openness, care, and joy in the times of pandemic;
Theme 2: Open Education responses to surveillance technologies and data ownership in education;
Theme 3: Open in Action: open teaching, educational practices and resources, how you might be using Domains and other tools;
Theme 4: Shifts in agency and creativity as empowerment of learners and educators;
Theme 5: Open Source Tools: infrastructure, cloud environments, targeted teaching tools.

We've come along way since #OER10 , I've blogged some of my own #OER journey.

My world may be similar to your world - wherever your geographic location.

Teaching staff while juggling their own domestic commitments are finding ways to develop engaging learning experiences . We can see a lot of thought and design going into Moodle courses and higher levels of interactivity through quizzes , forums, and other tools. Staff have been embedding Wakelets , H5P ,Google Sites and in the UK the Blended Learning Consortium content alongside links to open digital materials in the College's library to give students a rich learning experience.

We can see too great use of Zoom , Click-View and YouTube to provide short episodes of learning embedded in courses - while staff are doing crash courses in Microsoft teams used on the admin side of the organisation.

On assessment, staff are developing flexible solutions and making good use of dropbox and Turnitin where these are required - but mainly looking around at more open portfolio approaches to gathering evidence. 

From learners feedback is positive. They understand the challenges we are all facing . They appreciate the richer content , collaborative activities and zoom sessions. They enjoy using social media to support their formal learning and classes now use a variety of tools to stay in touch. They are coping with remote learning along with their own challenges. 

Like any other year the students are looking for more feedback. Some innovative staff are doing this through voice and video recordings as well as through more traditional feedback mechanisms.

One of the biggest challenges is a very human one - how do we get everyone to work with their camera switched on.

On all fronts we are trying to get staff to share and collaborate beyond the institution - in some ways the challenges are the same as 2010 but we have more solutions and staff are more willing to explore these and finally work in the open !

 #OERxDomains21 is a great space to explore what open education could do for you as a teacher and how it can empower your learners. If you are an institutional leader it will steer you to the systems and policy you need to put in place to open up your learning. 

I hope you come along and meet this global community of innovators. 

If ever the world needed more openness it is now !  Tune in 











Wednesday, January 20, 2021

#OERxDomains #OER21 Two messages for Two Audiences

Please Read on - for those who know about Open education this is the place to be and get your proposals in !

Online Conference – 21-22 April 2021 #OERxDomains #OER21

Organised by the Association for Learning Technology and in partnership with Reclaim Hosting’s Domains Conference, this special edition of the much loved event is the 12th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy.

The Call for Proposals is now open https://oer21.oerconf.org/call-for-proposals/ 

ALT Organisational Logo


For those who don't really understand what this is all about.

Forty years ago I left a school which gave me a good but narrow education - but one of the best around at the time. I've not stopped learning. I've been a school teacher , a hack , a community education tutor and College lecturer and held my share of senior posts. I am still a Glaswegian with an incurable social justice complex. I do believe that education can make the world a better place. Too often in my teaching career, the book I chose for the class or the resources available for learning were determined by the finances that the institution had. The learners got great learning - but through the narrow letter box view of the resources that we had available for them.

I don't get get that Scotland has not understood yet what open education practice and policies could do for learners and teachers.

We are currently in the midst of this terrible pandemic and we still haven't figured out that we don't compete on how well we re-package knowledge. Education staff around the world are tying themselves in knots trying to improve their notes , power points , instructional videos, that is not a bad thing. But it would be much more effective for learners and learning if that was a much more collaborative activity. It is more than having a set of course materials that are shared around and within your subject team. (though I do know that in many institutions that remains a triumph in itself). While putting a set of learning materials on to your institutional virtual learning environment may be your act of sharing ,you could be a bit more ambitious for learners everywhere. I don't believe learning materials replace a good teacher - but sharing helps teachers and learners. 

It is not a dark secret the answer is making and sharing your learning materials with an appropriate open educational licence. If you , your institutional leadership team , local authority education team , national education policy makers haven't spotted that this is actually practice encouraged globally by UNESCO , mandated for public education  I am not sure where you have been since 2012. 

In Scotland a good place to start might be considering The Open Scotland Declaration. and why not come along and meet a well informed set of  international set of speakers. 

Sign up and come along to the Online Conference – 21-22 April 2021 #OERxDomains #OER21 

Full disclosure I am co-chair of  the ALT Scottish Sig and a Co-Chair of this conference - but none of this is fake news ;-) 





Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Vision and a Happy New Year !


What a year of loss and struggle for so many people. The impact on the economy and on people’s lives won’t really be clear until the end of next year. I know how fortunate we have been in the roles we are in, in that we enjoy a degree of job security and we have been able to help others.

Professionally it’s been great to see staff and learners rising to the challenge of new ways of learning. I work with a great team who have been working flat out.

It’s been great too to see how our two school age children have adapted to online learning and monthly changes in the schooling system - they both miss sport most of all and socialising out of school, but generally their enthusiasm for learning has not suffered. Blended learning really does work.

Personally, it’s been very long hours and dealing too with navigating family illness and the stresses and strains of the new enforced domestic arrangements. We’re so lucky to have a garden and a dog and this space and companionship have kept us all sane. The scottish weather was kind too when we made our great summer escape to Lewis and that made all the difference to recharging our batteries.

Along the way I lost a couple of good pals,  in normal circumstances I’d have been present at the celebration of their lives. Watching remembrance services remotely , Zoom meetings and WhatsApp groups just don’t cut it.

I sometimes make predictions for the year ahead - I don’t think I could ever have predicted a year like this.

I hope things get back to a new normal where online learning is embedded in how everyone learns. I hope too we see a new system of national assessment in Scottish schools. We need some better national leadership around this. There is a lot of good learning that could come out of this pandemic. I am ever hopeful. 

As the economy changes - I expect to be busier than ever , we have ambitious plans for the year ahead and the demand for digital learning and associated skills are not going to diminish.  My inbox is perpetually full with requests for support. 

May the New Year bring you and yours good health, happiness, prosperity and a timely dose of Covid Vaccine.