Progressive CfE was 'invaded by the oppressive'

Gap between what was hoped for and what is delivered has grown, says study

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Curriculum for Excellence has been "increasingly invaded" by "oppressive" tendencies and now offers a pale imitation of its radical aims, according to a leading academic.

The University of Stirling's Jenny Reeves, who trawled through CfE-related documents over a six-year period, claims that despite its promises to liberate learning, young people still faced a "treadmill of assessment".

Policymakers and teachers come under fire in an article by Dr Reeves for delivering "something very far removed from what was hoped for".

Writing in Reinventing the Curriculum: New trends in curriculum policy and practice, edited by professors Mark Priestley and Gert Biesta, she states that her study shows how the progressive policy "became increasingly invaded and modified by another, the oppressive".

She adds: "The potential of `the successful learner' to serve as an emancipatory concept seems to have been severely eroded in its ongoing translation by national policymakers."

But this should not be viewed as "the work of a malignant political cadre", she writes, as policymakers in Scotland include teachers, headteachers, local authority personnel and academics.

Dr Reeves' findings are not entirely negative. For example, she states that peer- and self-assessment allow certain children "greater access to a curriculum that was previously closed to them".

But she argues that if changes like that remain "top down" decisions, they will fail to deliver significant results.

Dr Reeves also questions the likely effectiveness of personalisation of learning under CfE. Shifting responsibility on to young people to evaluate their own work, she suggests, may "pave the way to greater autonomy" - but it also creates a "new form of managerial-clerical work" for children to carry out.

Meanwhile, formative assessment - through Assessment is for Learning - has not offered a true break with the ways of the past; it takes place "within the restrictive margins provided by an elaborated treadmill of assessment activities", she writes.

Dr Reeves finds that, other than at pre-school level, "the scope for choice and decision-making becomes progressively sidelined over the six years" (from 2004 to 2010).

Freedom for young people to follow the learning of their choice is restricted by a need to cover a list of experiences and outcomes; significant choices, such as opting out of a subject and spending more time on another, or about when and how to learn - are not likely to be offered.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan agreed "that much of the more challenging aspiration of CfE is as yet unrealised".

He said: "On Assessment is for Learning approaches, for example, we have often said that what should have been a creative and dynamic approach to learning became reduced, in too many places, to a formulaic paper exercise where summative assessment, as the writer points out, subverted the original aim."

Teachers' freedom to explore different means of assessment "has been the victim of excessive top-down demands for monitoring and tracking" largely from education directors, he said. But the article's "sideways dig" at teachers was unfair, he added.

An Education Scotland spokeswoman said that allowing young people to make decisions about what and how they learn was key to CfE, and many schools reported children's confidence and ability improving as a result. She added that CfE was "not a set of rules or actions to be adhered to".

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Results from recent inspection reports demonstrate the difference that CfE is already making to improving learning and outcomes for young people, and schools' approaches will continue to evolve."


Reinventing the Curriculum: New trends in curriculum policy and practice includes chapters on CfE's overall concept of "capacities", and others specifically on "confident individuals", "responsible citizens" and "effective contributors". There is a chapter on emerging international curricular trends, and another on a salutary tale from Queensland, Australia.

Photo credit: Getty

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