CfE hits a crisis of confidence

30th April 2010 at 01:00

Part of the frenetic election activity now in our media is the seemingly endless release of poll data purporting to show who is doing what to whom, and how severely. Televised debates are followed by instant reaction polls, reported in Hollywood "winners and losers" style; I'm almost prepared for a tension-filled moment of silence with camera shots darting from Nick to David, then to Gordon (Alex isnae there) before the triumphant leader is announced and the other two go into a "speech- off".

Even odder is the weekly poll of polls, which combines the leading four polls, all seeming to say different things, and tries to say just one thing; compounding the felony, really.

Perhaps it's because I am an English teacher, but I seem to have a natural suspicion of things mathematical. Even so, I have spent some time recently studying one particular poll - the Curriculum for Excellence management board's survey of teachers, April 2010.

A total of 14,932 teachers took part in it - 24 per cent of the teaching workforce. This seems a fairly high level of return for a survey which had a tight turnaround, although, bizarrely, the Scottish Government's commentary suggests the figures "cannot be seen to represent the views of the wider population of all 60,000 teachers across Scotland". In fact, if you calculate the margin of error for the return against the sample, it works out at 0.00818 - which in layperson's terms equates to zero!

So what does the survey reveal?

Some good news in that over 60 per cent of respondents show some confidence in achieving progress in implementing CfE and supporting the development of literacy and numeracy. Almost 90 per cent confirm that their school has an improvement plan which reflects CfE - worryingly, that means about 10 per cent do not, a trend confirmed by an analysis of HMIE reports.

A sectoral analysis of key issues reveals a recurring theme of confidence being significantly lower in the secondary sector, with 60 per cent of teachers there being "not at all confident" about making sufficient progress next year.

Looking at confidence levels around the new National 4 and 5 qualifications, 72 per cent of teachers declared themselves "not at all confident".

Given this evidence of teacher opinion, I was surprised at the recent management board meeting to find myself a lone voice arguing for a delay to the timetable for introducing the qualifications. Even more worrying is the manner in which driving next year's S1 cohort towards 2013-14, the implementation date for the qualifications, has become coupled to the notion of "rolling out" CfE in the secondary sector.

Improvements to learning and teaching are the heart of the CfE programme, not the new qualifications. The key changes being advanced are not excluded by our current qualifications, nor are they dependent on a new qualifications framework. If anyone is looking at next session with notions of a CfE S1 cohort and a 5-14 S2 group, then you really have missed the point. All pupils should be gaining from CfE approaches.

We need to decouple implementation of CfE from the qualification timetable and we need to recognise the mounting pressure in schools caused by cutbacks and workload. A year's grace on qualifications, allowing for the consolidation of pedagogical change, would have created a stronger foundation for structural change in the future and taken some heat out of the situation.

The survey represents a collective appeal on the part of teachers for more time and support. Is anyone listening?

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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