This is a 'watershed moment' for Scotland

13th November 2009 at 00:00
Head of Scotland's education inspectorate mounts defence of Curriculum for Excellence

The head of Scotland's education inspectorate has mounted his most robust defence yet of Curriculum for Excellence, taking its critics to task for "serious misconceptions" and "over-simplification".

Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector, told a national conference in Glasgow that the curricular reforms were the most fundamental he had experienced in his career as a teacher and inspector.

He was very conscious that Scotland was at a "watershed moment" in ACfE and there was "an obligation" on everyone to work together to realise its potential. "There is a lot of noise around, both within the profession and in society generally about what Curriculum for Excellence is or is not about," he told the conference, organised by the Tapestry partnership, which also heard from international gurus Howard Gardner and Dylan Wiliam.

"Some of the things being said are serious misconceptions," said Mr Donaldson, in what will be widely interpreted as a swipe at one of the programme's arch-critics, Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University.

To those who said ACfE was "undemanding", "vague" and "undermines subjects", he gave a series of robust arguments outlining why he believed that not to be the case.

He acknowledged that charges that ACfE lacked the rigour of the current system might come from the way the "experiences and outcomes" have been phrased, explaining from the pupil's perspective "I can ." and "I have . ".

Mr Donaldson added: "At first sight, that can lead people to think that this is undemanding. But anyone who spends time looking at these experiences and outcomes will realise that they are very powerful in terms of the nature of the learning they demand. If we can get it right, the experiences and outcomes will lead to deeper and more consolidated learning for young people."

Levels 3 and 4 were not a "pick and mix" of subjects, but intended to provide a broader platform for learning than pupils had at the moment.

Those who accused ACfE of being vague were "confusing lack of prescription with vagueness". As for the claim the reform undermined subjects, Mr Donaldson said: "Anyone who looks at the experiences and outcomes in depth will see they build from subjects, rather than the reverse."

The last point of misconception was that this was "year zero". He added: "It is not a rejection of the `child at the centre' or 5-14 or Standard grade. It stands on the shoulders of these previous reforms. Less prescription is only possible because some of the things embedded in these previous reforms are now part of the DNA of the profession, particularly in the way that progression is built into primary."

If we were to build on ACfE, we had to have healthy debate, but we had to avoid what Mr Donaldson described as "over-simplification".

The Schools and Skills Minister Keith Brown, who opened the conference, launched a scathing attack on the recent report by the Centre for Public Policy for Regions, which implied Scotland was spending more money on education than England and achieving poorer results.

The analysis had used "simplistic comparisons" on spending versus exam results, and had failed to compare like with like, said Mr Brown.

In Scotland, most young people aged between 16 and 18 were educated in school, while in England, they went to sixth-form colleges or further education - a spending factor not included in the CPPR's calculations. Its comparisons on exam results did not "stack up" either, as it failed to take account of the "grade inflation" widely acknowledged to exist south of the border, said Mr Brown.

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