Scotland risks losing its highly regarded reputation for education because ministers have been too slow to implement Curriculum for Excellence, an international expert on education reform has warned.
Michael Fullan, a Canadian educationalist, has called on the Scottish government to "fill the vacuum" created by replacing the previous school curriculum. A decade after CfE was launched, details remained "vague", he said, and Scotland's performance and global status could suffer if the referendum vote distracted attention from crucial reform.
Mr Fullan also warned that Scotland was in danger of receiving a poor report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducts individual country reviews and runs the global Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings.
"The OECD is about to do a country report on Scotland following their report on Wales, where they said the government lacked vision because although they got rid of something that wasn't good [the English testing system], they did not replace that with a better alternative, so they have emptiness," he said.
Mr Fullan (pictured, left), who has researched and influenced curriculum change around the world, was in Scotland last week to debate leadership issues with headteachers.
Speaking to TESS at the event in Motherwell, near Glasgow, he said: "Maybe the government is being deliberately vague, but it is vague and therefore people are a bit frustrated. That's why my message to principals today is to work more collaboratively, improving relationships within and between schools and with councils to help fill the vacuum.
"Scotland has got rid of a rigid curriculum, which I think was a good move, so it is doing less of the wrong things. But it needs to replace that with the right things. It's still not clear what the alternative to the past curriculum is and I think that has been going on a bit too long now."
Mr Fullan added: "CfE needs attention to result in full implementation. Although the referendum is bound to affect everything, I think regardless of how it goes, it's time to focus on concrete action."
CfE was launched in 2004 by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition, before being inherited by the SNP when the party took power in 2007.
Mr Fullan's criticism comes after previous concerns about the slow pace of change were raised by the Commission on School Reform in 2013. It also coincides with fallout over the first new National exams, which replaced Standard grade and Intermediate qualifications under the ongoing reform. Last week, the EIS teaching union warned of a mass exodus of teachers, driven by the unprecedented stress and workload created by the changes.
However, several headteachers at the leadership event defended progress on CfE. Suzanne Brown, head at Chapelhall Primary in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, said: "We're probably about three-quarters of the way around the circle. I think Mr Fullan is right that we need to work more collaboratively. Working together is something we're asking children to do through CfE and we do need to continue to do that ourselves."
The Scottish government defended progress and expressed "confidence" that the OECD report, due late next year, would conclude that CfE "will equip young people with the skills to succeed in the global workplace".
Alasdair Allan, minister for learning, science and Scotland's languages, said: "Scottish education is renowned around the world and our schools continue to perform well in the Pisa statistics, with particular progress being made in closing the attainment gap. All Scottish schools are now benefiting from the roll-out of Curriculum for Excellence."