Curriculum for catastrophe

In the light of education secretary Michael Russell's assertions that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is, by and large, proceeding on schedule, perhaps it is time to point out some facts about this catastrophe.

The reality of this curriculum's implementation, directed by local and national government, is the creation of a process that has seen even CfE's creators admit that the process has strayed off course. As Professor Brian Boyd, a prominent supporter of CfE, was moved to state recently in a letter to TESS: "Many teachers feel disempowered and undermined by the punitive approaches to target-setting imposed by some local authorities. CfE was supposed to be based on professional trust and intelligent accountability. If we are not careful, teachers will begin see (CfE) as another version of the same straitjacket imposed by 5-14, and a great opportunity for transformational change will be lost."

So what has gone wrong?

- There has been a top-down, micro-management process, with a checklist-style approach to new courses, while the style of course management varies from school to school. This, of course, goes against the spirit of CfE.

- Definitions of interdisciplinary learning have been constantly misapplied. For example, CfE makes no provision for combined courses, yet is used to justify the new courses, with "broad general education" similarly misapplied, raising suspicions that both ideas are being used to save money by having fewer subject-specific teachers, rather than for reasons related to the curriculum.

- Assessment is still driving curriculum. With the introduction of National 4 and 5 qualifications, there will be an increase in the number of assessments that young people undergo from next year. Previously, by S4 young people would complete nine standard grades; now pupils could complete up to 21 "NABs" (National Assessment Bank) and added-value units. Thus, Es and Os have become the new assessment drivers and standards.

- There has been a failure to change ethos and methods of school leadership, with no change in policy implementation, ie, a continuation of the "top-down" approach and a refusal to let teachers drive change. Is this a fear of giving teachers freedom, particularly at local council level?

- There has been continued specification of subject areas but a refusal to specify subject content, and there is enough vagueness within CfE to compound the powerlessness felt by teachers in this process.

These issues are further compounded by other problems facing teachers:

- attacks on pay and conditions;

- increases in workload;

- a continued lack of resources in a general sense within schools;

- the demise of chartered teachers;

- a gradual cutback in promotion opportunities in schools; and

- a "brain drain" that has seen significant numbers of newly qualified staff leave Scotland in search of employment.

This "perfect storm" has ensured that many teachers have run out of patience and goodwill in terms of implementing the new curriculum.

If Mr Russell wants CfE to be a success, he must deal with realities and address teachers' concerns, rather than proclaiming success when there is none.

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