Is anyone really listening?

G J Herbert

I am sorry to state that despite all the rhetoric, Curriculum for Excellence is still an unholy mess and it is high time those who have influence had the guts to admit it. Like Carole Ford, who aired her opinions through your columns recently, I feel obliged to do the same. As a long-serving headteacher (HMIE-confirmed twice), I feel it is my duty to do so, because I am still passionate about what the Scottish educational system can potentially offer to the young people in my school.

I have always been a "critical friend" of the CfE process, lauding its principles but watching the chaos ensuing from the detail with the issue of each document, some of which conflict with each other.

I have analysed the curricular models in my own authority and, needless to say, they are all different. If we replicate this across 300-plus state secondary schools we have real problems of children transferring schools both within and across authorities - a "seamless" curriculum 3-18, I think not.

Not a day goes by without a teacher, or principal teacher, expressing their CfE concerns to me. My staff are dedicated, professional practitioners who always have the young people at the forefront; they are striving to make CfE work but it is a bit like knitting fog with each new pronouncement (TVEI - the Technical Vocational Education Initiative - was a bit the same, for those old enough to remember it, but at least it was well resourced).

I contest if you asked 1,000 teachers across Scotland what CfE meant to them, you would get 1,000 different answers, which does not bode well for the future of a 21st-century curriculum. My staff are the people who are having to implement CfE and at the same time tick Education Scotland's boxes, regarding ever-increasing attainment demands, despite all the socio-economic pressures, lack of resources, uncertainty regarding pensions, increasing poverty etc.

In conclusion, do I offer a solution? I wish I could, but the genie is too far out of the bottle for that, and there are still too many vested interests and careers on the line (not mine, as I am nearing retirement, so no threats there).

So, ultimately, I am asking for "breathing space", a thorough review of CfE and a chance to correct fundamental errors and woolly thinking before we consign a generation of children to the doldrums. Mike Russell's stay of execution, announced on 21 March, plus two more in-service days, only scratch the surface and do little to alleviate the genuine concerns of classroom teachers who are out of their comfort zones. Like it or not, secondary teachers will only start to gain more confidence when they have seen exemplar exam papers from the SQA; this is hardly surprising when all that has gone before has been so geared to exams and attainment.

Will anyone listen, take notice and have the courage to raise their head above the Education Scotland parapet? I fervently hope so, for the time for rhetoric is over. Let us have some firm action from those who are in a position to turn the CfE ship around before it sinks into oblivion like a few other educational initiatives over my career - remember Howie, anyone?

G J Herbert, rector, Lockerbie Academy, Dumfries and Galloway.

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G J Herbert

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