Swinney: Review about curriculum, not qualifications

Education secretary doesn't want the review of Scottish curriculum to be ‘an extensive debate about qualifications’

Emma Seith

Review of Curriculum for Excellence will be about curriculum, not qualifications, says John Swinney

Scotland's education secretary has told the Scottish Parliament that the review of Curriculum for Excellence – sparked largely by the falling Higher pass rate and fears that the new qualifications have reduced the number of subjects pursued in upper secondary – will be “more a curricular assessment than qualifications assessment”.

Educationalists, however, have responded to John Swinney’s position saying that the curriculum and qualifications are “inextricably linked”.

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Related: Secondary Scottish education must be reviewed, MSPs say

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Following a statement by Mr Swinney to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon, Scottish Greens education spokesman Ross Greer asked if he accepted that the comprehensive review – to be carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and due to report in spring 2021 – should look at attainment trends within individual Higher subjects, as well as articulation between the different qualification levels.

Curriculum for Excellence under review

Mr Swinney said there were “issues about articulating from National 4 to National 5 which need to be reflected upon” but that national qualifications would not be the focus of the review.

He said he was “anxious” that the review would not result in “an extensive debate about qualifications”.

Mr Swinney added: “What I am more interested in is looking at the way CfE is being delivered to support the objectives of Curriculum for Excellence, but not necessarily have that defined by the approach to the qualifications. It’s more of a curricular assessment than a qualifications assessment.”

However, afterwards on Twitter, Mr Greer said: “I'm unconvinced you can address the issues with the curriculum without dealing with the qualifications, which are often the cause or at least how they manifest.”

Teachers also shared their thoughts, including former secondary headteacher Carole Ford, who tweeted: “Not happy. The curriculum, assessment system and qualifications are inextricably linked. Hard to see how radical improvement is possible if only the curriculum is examined.”

The Scottish Conservatives successfully pushed for the Scottish government’s planned review of the senior phase – which was due to focus on the final three years of secondary and report this summer – to be turned into a comprehensive review of Curriculum for Excellence, arguing there were “key weaknesses” in the Scottish education system.

One of the issues the party’s shadow education secretary, Liz Smith, highlighted was “the four-year decline in Higher pass rates”.

The 2019 A-C attainment rate at Higher was 74.8 per cent, down from 76.8 per cent in 2018, and down 2.4 percentage points since 2016, when the pass rate was 77.2 per cent.

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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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