CfE needs more than just tweaks, heads told

11th February 2011 at 00:00
HMIE warns that complacent approach to the curriculum will leave schools badly wrong-footed

Teachers who have been told that Curriculum for Excellence simply involves carrying on with what they have always done will end up badly off course, heads were warned last week.

Doug Marr, an inspector with HMIE, revealed that he had become concerned by the number of times he heard staff insisting to colleagues, worried about curricular reform, that they simply had to tweak their existing good practice.

"Curriculum for Excellence isn't about doing what you've always done, differently," he said at a leadership event in Edinburgh. "I was quite worried when I used to go into schools which tried to reassure staff by saying: `We're already doing this.'

"We haven't always done it - it's about raising the bar, raising aspirations."

CfE demanded closing the educational gap for the More Choices, More Chances group, the Scottish Government's preferred description for young people who are not in education, employment or training (Neets).

But Mr Marr, a former secondary headteacher, added that there was still considerable cause for optimism. He had visited a number of schools from September to December last year, when the Government suspended inspections so that HMIE could support the implementation of CfE.

Teachers were showing increasing confidence with experiences and outcomes, particularly in secondary schools and most markedly at S1.

The schools making most progress were invariably good at planning. "In schools where there wasn't that strategic planning, and it was difficult to see how the school was moving from A to B, there were some staff who could not see the wood from the trees," Mr Marr said.

Although there was good general progress with implementation, one glaring shortcoming was the frequent absence of any parental involvement in children's learning.

Mr Marr stressed, too, the "pivotal importance of leadership, not just at the very top of the school", and that leadership skills must be fostered among pupils.

Continuing professional development - which had to show evidence that it made an impact - and "professional dialogue" were also crucial to CfE's success, he said.

"There's a terrible danger that we still think about CPD as attendance at courses," said another speaker at the Government event last week, Musselburgh Academy headteacher Ronnie Summers. "I think it goes far, far deeper than that: what are you doing that's actually making a difference to practice in your schools?" he commented.

He called for a culture in which people could make mistakes and not be "pilloried for trying things".

Mr Summers, who is also education convener of School Leaders Scotland, was optimistic that CfE would pan out more smoothly than a previous reform because, unlike Higher Still whose implementation in 1999 preceded the exam results debacle of 2000, it was not a "big bang". "Higher Still failed because it was being done to us, not with us," he said.

David Cameron, the former Stirling Council education director who is carrying out a review of devolved school management, hinted at what may prove to be one of his key findings later this year.

"There are probably too many levels of accountability for schools," he said. "We need to invest more strongly in self-evaluation."

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