Call for curriculum rethink

Committee of experts has called for a `strategic overview' of CfE

Elizabeth Buie

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A committee of some of the nation's most senior educationalists has published a devastating critique of the current state of education in Scotland, warning that an evidence base for the effectiveness of Curriculum for Excellence is "nowhere to be found".

The education committee of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, chaired by Professor Sally Brown, suggests the government lacks a "strategic overview" for education and needs to clarify the role of schools in addressing youth unemployment.

In a submission to the Commission on School Reform, chaired by former Clackmannanshire Council chief executive and education director Keir Bloomer, the committee raises a particular concern about the lack of "independent systematic research" or evaluation of CfE.

It acknowledges that the innovative CfE has the potential to "lead the world" because, in principle, it addresses many of the curriculum problems that have been articulated over the years in many countries.

"Unfortunately, however, the evidence base (which the government fully accepts is needed for science and technology) for the effectiveness of this educational approach is nowhere to be found. There are assertions of `success', but no proper evidence. Without high-quality evaluation, not only do we not know what is going well and what is not, without an evidence base we have no way of developing a proper understanding or ability to plan so that things go better.

"In these circumstances, Scotland will not have the impact internationally that it so desires," states the paper.

There is currently "no overall strategy" outlining how all the disparate strands of the education and skills sectors will be integrated into an education and skills continuum, it adds.

The diversity emerging in the senior phase of secondary risks the creation of a "two-tier system of quality" in comprehensive education, "determined by a school's ability to accommodate (or not) all the different pathways that are valued by tertiary education and employers", it continues.

If the government wants to fulfil its economic development objectives, it should be channelling its resources at the root causes in the early years, rather than seeking to respond to the problems once they have occurred, says the committee.

A spokesman for the Scottish government said: "It is essential to have good evidence available if we are to understand how we may improve our performance to better improve outcomes for children. Comparative information is used intelligently for continuous improvement, rather than relying on over-simplified comparisons that disguise some essential cultural differences between different countries.

"The CfE management board has been clear that the senior phase can only be successful if local authorities, schools, colleges and their partners work together to offer a flexible system that offers personalisation and choice and clear pathways into employment of the next phase of education."

Membership of the RSE education committee

- Professor Sally Ann Brown, educational researcher and former deputy principal of the University of Stirling (convener)

- Keir Bloomer, former chief executive and education director of Clackmannanshire Council

- Professor Geoffrey Boulton, geoscientist, and regius professor emeritus of the University of Edinburgh

- Professor John Coggins, former vice-principal of life sciences, clinical medicine and veterinary medicine, University of Glasgow

- Professor Graham Donaldson, former senior chief inspector, HMIE

- Professor Colin Graham, professor of experimental geochemistry, University of Edinburgh

- Professor Jack Jackson, former chief inspector, HMIE

- Dr Janet Lowe, former principal of Lauder College (now Carnegie College)

- Dr Judith McClure, former headteacher of St George's School for Girls, Edinburgh

- Dr Paul Thomson, headteacher of Jordanhill School, Glasgow

- Professor Alice Brown, former vice-principal of the University of Edinburgh and the first Scottish public services ombudsman (2002-09)

- Dr Janet Brown (observer) - SQA chief executive.

Original headline: Evidence base for CfE is `nowhere to be found'

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Elizabeth Buie

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