Elizabeth Buie reports on the reform challenges facing the quality improvement officers' annual conference in Carnoustie.
Levels A-F under the 5-14 guidelines are to be swept away and replaced by broader levels of achievement as part of the Scottish Executive's curriculum reforms.
May Sweeney, national co-ordinator of A Curriculum for Excellence, revealed that these new levels of achievement would extend from 3-18 and describe pupils' experiences as well as attainment.
They would challenge pupils, she believed, and she emphasised that all pupil experiences contributed to learning. "Extra-curricular" should be excised from the vocabulary, she added.
Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, has already promised a statement on the progress of the curriculum plans before the end of this month (TESS, January 27). This is expected to include how pupils' broader achievements can be recognised and whether Standard grades will be dropped to mirror the new levels.
Mrs Sweeney, speaking to the Association of Educational Development and Improvement Professionals in Scotland (AEDIPS), said current thinking in relation to the new levels of achievement in the early years and primary stages was that they would cover from the age of three to the end of P1, P2-P4 and P5-P7.
There was a major discussion going on over whether the next stage should be the end of S1 and then the end of S3, or whether S1 should be a half-stage, she said. The final stage would be S4-S6.
"The levels need to express and describe experiences and outcomes," Mrs Sweeney said. She rejected any view that this would encourage early presentation for exams, saying: "Placing an early recognition of achievement at the end of S3 does not mean a blanket move to early presentation."
Mrs Sweeney stressed the importance of learning lessons from the Assessment is for Learning programme which had shown that practice was most effective where a significant number of staff were taking something forward, because collaboration was so important.
But she warned headteachers who said they would not start working on the new curriculum until they knew what was happening with qualifications that they would be missing out. "They will be left on the back foot," she said.
She added: "I have heard some headteachers saying for years: 'If things were freed up, I would do this . . .' Things have now been freed up, but some are still looking for obstacles. This really is the test of leadership. Others have taken to the new curricular opportunities like a duck to water."
Even before the profession focused on content, however, Mrs Sweeney urged teachers to consider carefully what values should underpin the curriculum.
She cited Meldrum Academy in Aberdeenshire which had spent several months, after whole-staff meetings, thinking through values, beliefs and professionalism.
In another school, the 105 members of staff were asked to match what they were doing already with the four purposes of ACfE:creating successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens, and effective contributors.
"Most of them put what pupils were doing in the classroom under 'successful learners' and, if they contributed to a school show or sport, that was put somewhere else. Citizenship or enterprise came under 'effective contributors'."
Mrs Sweeney suggested a broader outlook. Teachers might consider, for example, how citizenship manifested itself in what they were doing, whether they were teaching a P4 class or maths, or how early years or work in special school settings tied in with developing pupils as effective contributors.