LISTEN: Teachers gain ‘clarity’ around curriculum aims

Teachers have improved understanding of CfE – but be wary of linking that to better Pisa reading scores, says academic

Henry Hepburn

LISTEN: Teachers gain ‘clarity’ around curriculum aims

Teachers have more clarity now about what Curriculum for Excellence is, according to one of Scotland’s leading curriculum experts.

But Mark Priestley, a professor of education at the University of Stirling, said it was too much of a stretch to link that clarity to improved reading scores in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results, although it may have led to “slight improvements”.

Professor Priestley spoke to Tes on the day that the Pisa global education rankings were released, revealing a mixed picture for Scotland.

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More on Pisa: 2018 results reveal a mixed picture for Scotland

“Actually, we don’t have the evidence to say whether Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is responsible for the decline or otherwise in Pisa results," said Professor Priestley (click YouTube video below to hear his comments in full).

Today's Pisa results may have indicated some "slight improvements" in reading, although "maths and science seem to be sitting pretty much where they were", he said.

But, while he predicted "what we’ll also see over time is teachers becoming more comfortable with working in the way that CfE demands”, he stressed that "I don’t think we can draw hard and fast conclusions" linking CfE improvements to Pisa improvements.

In recent times, he added, there had also been "a major policy push" on literacy, and that may have had an impact on Pisa scores.

Over the years, however, there had been "a lot of confusion about what CfE actually is" and "what we’re not seeing is a full implementation of CfE as it was intended", Professor Priestley said.

He added: “I think there’s been some progress since. What I am seeing is a slightly greater sense of clarity in schools about what Curriculum for Excellence is. And that will improve this year because there is a new resource called Scotland’s Curriculum, which is providing a one-stop-shop for all the CfE resources so that people don’t have to go looking for them all over the place – the 20,000 [online] pages that were produced and which were criticised by the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] have been slimmed right down.

“But, most importantly, the resource is providing a process for engagement. Now, it’s early days yet, but what I am seeing is schools engaging far more substantively with the idea that they have to produce a curriculum rationale, for example, and that they have to do something to fix the years 1-3 broad general education phase in secondary school, which has been largely neglected with the focus on the senior phase.

“So I think what we’re seeing is the emergence of a degree of clarity, and I suspect that if that continues we’re going to see a far more meaningful implementation of CfE."

Professor Priestley also said: “That doesn’t alter the fact that the curriculum itself has some structural problems – particularly the over-emphasis on learning outcomes and assessment benchmarks, which are producing often very ‘ticky-box-type’ approaches – but I think over time we’re starting to get people who understand it better."

*These comments were made during the recording of a broad-ranging interview with Professor Priestley, which will be released as a Tes Podagogy podcast early in the new year

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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