Teachers feel out of their depth

Report shows lack of confidence around major planks of CfE

Emma Seith

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Swathes of secondary teachers have admitted they do not understand some of the most fundamental planks of the new curriculum.

High proportions of secondary staff have reported they lack confidence when it comes to concepts central to Curriculum for Excellence, such as "breadth, depth and challenge" and the teaching of literacy, numeracy and health and well-being across the curriculum.

The evaluation of teacher confidence was published last week in the first survey of primary and secondary pupils' numeracy skills, the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.

It found that a third (30 per cent) of secondary teachers said they were not sure they understood how to teach numeracy across the curriculum; 20 per cent said they were not confident they understood the concepts of breadth, depth and challenge; 19 per cent were unsure about the teaching of health and well-being across learning; and 16 per cent were unsure about the teaching of literacy across all aspects of learning.

Maths teachers, who were surveyed separately, were predictably more comfortable with the concept of teaching numeracy across learning, but nearly half of them admitted they were not confident when it came to the teaching of health and well-being and literacy - 49 per cent and 42 per cent respectively. More than a quarter - 26 per cent - lacked confidence when it came to the concepts of breadth, depth and challenge.

Primary teachers were more confident with the five aspects of CfE surveyed; none reported being "not at all confident".

However, primary teachers' confidence is misplaced, suggested Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at the University of Edinburgh. He was more concerned by the high level of primary teachers' confidence in their mastery of numeracy than secondary teachers' lack of it. The primary teachers were "rashly over-optimistic", he told TESS.

"It's not surprising that secondary non-maths specialists are not confident they can deliver numeracy across learning because most will not have done much maths beyond school - as is the case for the vast majority of primary teachers," he said.

The outcomes for pupils could well be better under the less confident secondary teachers because they were less likely to "forge ahead and probably get it wrong", he predicted.

The main purpose of the survey is to monitor pupils' performance in literacy and numeracy in alternate years, but the teacher questionnaire also looked at how Curriculum for Excellence had been implemented.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The survey was conducted during 2011 as secondary schools were in the first year of implementing CfE. The reported higher levels of confidence in primary suggest that when teachers become more familiar with the approaches, confidence increases."



Leading academics have challenged the claim by education secretary Michael Russell that the strong performance of primary pupils in maths and numeracy was attributable to Curriculum for Excellence.

The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy found 32 per cent of S2 pupils were not performing at their level for maths, compared with 2 per cent at P4 and P7, perhaps justifying primary staff's confidence in numeracy (see main story).

But academics have pointed out that learning in numeracy is cumulative.

Professor Alan Roach of STEM-ED Scotland, which champions science, technology, engineering and maths, said: "It would be a mistake . to conclude that numeracy learning is in very good shape in primary schools, before everything goes dramatically wrong in the early secondary years."

Sally Brown, professor emeritus of education at the University of Stirling, added: "Those not achieving something early on are liable to slip into cumulative failure unless something specific is done to remedy this. Often nothing is done as the teaching presses on and so general performance reduces as the young person progresses up through the system."

Original headline: Secondary staff lack confidence in the CfE basics

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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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