Learn from 16-18 Action Plan

Elizabeth Buie

The current plans to reform exams in upper secondary are fragmented and incoherent, the Scottish Educational Research Association heard yesterday at the opening of its annual conference in Perth.

In his keynote address, David Raffe of Edinburgh University's Centre for Educational Sociology, called for them to be replaced by a multi-level baccalaureate-type award for all 15-18 learners, whether at school, college or the workplace.

Professor Raffe called on the education community to learn the lessons over the past 25 years since the launch of the Action Plan for 16- 18-year-olds in Scotland.

The key lessons were that:

- flexible curriculum and qualifications systems may discourage the development of a clear purpose and vision of change; education authorities thus relinquished control over content and values, and the influence of end-users - universities or employers - became stronger;

- the core strength of comprehensive education rests on the clarity of its institutional mission and the consistency of standards and provision; this clarity and consistency were potentially threatened by greater local autonomy, by the encouragement of school-based innovation, and by the emerging variation in patterns of school-college partnerships;

- the Government should abandon its commitment to parity of esteem between vocational and academic courses, replacing it with a commitment to ensure that vocational learning is of high quality and offers clear and predictable ways into good jobs or higher education.

Professor Raffe added: "A Curriculum for Excellence rightly seeks to stimulate local and school-based innovation, but it needs to recognise the limitations of bottom-up change and the influence of "top-down" drivers such as qualifications.

"Claims that ACfE is a curriculum-led reform may obscure the fact that it is inescapably a qualifications-driven (and inspection-driven) reform, at least where secondary education is concerned. The issue is not whether curriculum or qualifications should drive ACfE, but whether and how the qualifications that drive it can be designed to promote curricular goals.

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Elizabeth Buie

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