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New shape of learning will find space for extra depth

The first report from the curriculum review says that subjects will be 'refreshed and refocused', report Neil Munro and Elizabeth Buie

The curriculum will be grouped into eight components for all pupils from 3-18, the programme board heading the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence suggested this week.

The board will not issue draft guidance on the role of subjects until later this year, but its report proposes that the eight areas into which they fit should be:

* health and well-being

* languages

* mathematics

* sciences

* social studies

* expressive arts

* technologies

* religious and moral education

It claims this is a departure from the modes into which subjects are grouped in S3-S4. Home economics, for example, is part of the technology mode and would be expected to make contributions to at least two of these areas, including practical food preparation as an important aspect of health and well-being for all young people.

The new guidance, which will be published in draft form in September, will be streamlined, the programme board promises. Instead of separate guidance for different stages and sectors, there will be a single framework covering ages 3-18.

"The guidance will specify only what needs to be specified," the report states.

It emphasises the importance of recognising achievement in and outside the formal curriculum, not just performance in exams, and of allowing pupils to work across curricular areas. Reporting to parents will reflect this, describing achievement as "I have . . ." and "I can . . ."

The board believes that simplifying the curriculum and creating more space around levels of performance will allow pupils to study in greater depth and stand a better chance of becoming "successful learners, responsible citizens, effective contributors and confident individuals" (the so-called "four capacities").

As already reported in The TES Scotland (March 3), the review envisages that the tight levels of the 5-14 curriculum should be swept away and replaced by broader descriptions. There would be just three stages in primary - early (pre-school and P1), first (until the end of P4) and second (end of P7).

The secondary years would begin at third and fourth levels for S1-S3, with a senior stage for S4-S6. Maggi Allan, chair of the curriculum review programme board, emphasised that these levels do not imply testing at specific stages such as the end of P1. Teachers will decide on testing, the report states, "using a broad repertoire of approaches . . . when they believe that a child has a secure grasp of a significant body of knowledge".

Mrs Allan said: "The problem in the past has been that levels have been seen as hurdles so that, when you get to level C, you are already thinking about the next hurdle up.

"Our view is that these levels should be seen as expressions of progression. This can be outwards as well as upwards in a way that broadens understanding and lets pupils study in more depth, which is probably one of the curriculum principles that is most sacrificed as teachers struggle to cover the ground."

Mrs Allan remains confident that the review to date has found space in the curriculum for learning in depth and for wider experiences. The board's report says this can be achieved by "reducing the number of levels at which outcomes are described, defining targets for learning differently and removing duplication within and across curriculum areas".

This, in turn, will "provide space for the things pupils and teachers say they find most rewarding, things like enterprise, citizenship, sustainability, creativity".

The implications for teaching will be considerable, the report states.

Teachers will be expected to employ a broader range of approaches, adapt to differing learning styles, work collaboratively with colleagues and make use of skills in the community.

"Many of these things are already happening," Mrs Allan said, "which underlines the fact that we are endorsing a lot of the practice that already exists in schools."

She also emphasised that the curriculum review "puts leadership of the curriculum very firmly back on the headteacher's desk. This is not a major hill to be climbed since many headteachers are already leading in this area. But it is significant enough to make the point that CPD is not just for teachers alone."

A Curriculum for Excellence: progress and proposals is available on The TESS website at

What the revised curriculum might look like

Early years

The programme board believes the existing guidance for the 3-5 curriculum is working well, and minor updating will suffice. Maggi Allan, chair of the curriculum review programme board, believes that P1 will come to look more like the pre-school stages, with a less formal approach.


There will be "substantial simplification and prioritisation of the curriculum". Supporting guidance will also be slimmed down and will set out requirements for pupils' experiences as well as results. There will be more emphasis on active learning from P1 and beyond. Outcomes achieved by pupils will be given more prominence than inputs, which means existing time allocations for each area of the curriculum will be abandoned.


The initial stages will be offered greater clarity on the purposes of learning, which are intended to develop the "four capacities" set out for young people in A Curriculum for Excellence. Schools will be given greater scope in designing their own curriculum which should provide opportunities for broader achievements, interdisciplinary activities and personal choices. Curriculum areas and subjects will be "revised and enriched through the review process to provide challenge and enjoyment, depth and relevance". There will be a renewed emphasis on "raising the bar" on expectations for attainment, notably in literacy and numeracy, but also for achievements in health and well-being, citizenship, enterprise and creativity. The S4-S6 years will be planned as a single stage.

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