Scotland's curriculum undermined by new exams, warns expert

And a headteacher says new qualifications have 'killed' Curriculum for Excellence

Emma Seith

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One of the architects of Scotland's curriculum says it is being seriously undermined by too many new exams.

The “single most important mistake” in the implementation of the new curriculum in Scotland has been the introduction of new exams and qualifications, says Keir Bloomer, one of the early designers of Curriculum for Excellence.

Keir Bloomer – who is also convener of the Royal Society of Edinburgh's education committee - told a conference in Edinburgh yesterday looking at the next steps for CfE: “When Curriculum for Excellence was being developed we said we wanted a less examination dominated system and we’ve ended up with the exact contrary effect.

"The decision to proceed with the introduction of new qualifications was probably the single most important mistake made in the implementation process.”

Curriculum changes

A secondary headteacher speaking at the same event said that the new qualifications had “killed Curriculum for Excellence in secondary”. The new qualifications system was meant to chime with CfE, but had ended up being too similar to what had gone before, said Campbell Hornell, headteacher of Lasswade High in Midlothian.

He said: "If anything has killed Curriculum for Excellence in secondary it's the SQA [Scottish Qualifications Authority] and the lack of change to the exam structure."

The new qualifications began being rolled out in Scottish secondary schools in 2013-14 when the new National qualifications were introduced. The rollout ended when the new Advanced Higher exams were sat for the first time in 2016. 

Vocational qualifications important

However, the decision two years ago to remove unit assessments from National 5 and Higher – while called for by teachers who said the tests created a "testing treadmill" in schools – has meant the qualifications have continued to dominate.

Bloomer said that further "largescale change" to the qualifications was unlikely for "a good many years" and that schools needed to use the existing qualifications more imaginatively by, for instance, making more use of vocational qualifications.

The SQA has been approached for comment.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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