Editorial - Success of CfE reforms hangs in the balance

3rd August 2012 at 01:00

There has never been a seamless education process, but the cracks between each phase appear as wide now as they have ever been. Early years education was supposed to deliver a natural progression into P1 under the 3-18 design of Curriculum for Excellence - yet the role of teachers in nursery delivering that continuum is set to return as a political hot potato if the EIS union has its way (Letters, page 30).

At the other end of the age spectrum, college students graduating with HNC or HND qualifications are making only limited progress when they try to take the next step into a university degree (page 8). Half of last year's intake to university had the advanced standing of their college qualifications recognised, allowing them to go straight into second or third year. But the other half had to repeat at least one year of study, turning a four-year degree into one lasting five or six years. Young people, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, do not have the luxury of taking more time than is strictly necessary to prepare for work. The process of articulation needs to become better oiled - with further and higher education sectors collaborating more closely to ensure that course content and expectations are better aligned.

And therein lies the rub with the assessment process under Curriculum for Excellence. No longer can teachers rely on a bank of 5-14 tests to check that their pupils have met the expected standard. All too often, the tests' currency was not accepted anyway by teachers receiving pupils into S1. CfE's solution to the seemingly intractable problem of primary- secondary transition was to rely more on teachers' professional judgement, give greater prominence to formative assessment, encourage teachers to share more information, and above all to make teachers' moderation of each other's work the foundation stone of the assessment system.

The research team at the University of Glasgow led by Professor Louise Hayward has highlighted that time is of the essence - if necessary, other activities should be dropped to make space in the timetable to support teachers in moderation and the sharing of standards (page 5). But the researchers' report, Assessment at Transition, makes it clear that expertise will not be achieved overnight: "Current practice represents the early stages in a process that will take time to develop."

Moderation of standards may not be the most headline-grabbing aspect of CfE, but failure to deliver it could consign this reform to ignominy. If judgements across schools lack dependability and consistency, the entire system will lose credibility. The moves by the Ucas admissions service to modernise its applications systems (page 5) recognise the need for a common understanding of information. It's good to talk? No - it's absolutely crucial.

Elizabeth Buie Deputy editor

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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