Education director 'issued CfE warnings'

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
He claims he voiced concerns as early as 2006, but HMIE and the SQA deny it

East Renfrewshire's director of education claimed this week he had been flagging up concerns to HMIE and the Scottish Qualifications Authority about the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence since 2006. But both organisations denied his claim.

A spokesman for SQA said that the authority's earliest consultation response had been made via the Scottish government in 2008. He said East Renfrewshire had reported that there was a need to ensure good progression routes; that it was supportive of grading units; and it was concerned over parental pressure and "end-loading" of assessments. But SQA had seen no comment on timings from the authority.

And sources within Education Scotland, now the umbrella body for HMIE, endorsed the SQA's position.

John Wilson, director of education for East Renfrewshire, was called, along with other senior education officials, to the Parliament's education committee this week to give evidence about the recent furore over CfE.

There were two reasons behind his authority's decision to delay the introduction of the new qualifications, he said - its dropping of Standard grade in 2005, along with teachers' "insecurity" and nervousness about the new courses.

"We always use the HMIE criteria for intelligent accountability when we make any major change in education," he told MSPs.

"We were encouraged to use them to look at educational gain, consultation and evaluation when making any timetabling structure change or introducing a new aspect to the curriculum. We apply the criteria rigorously in our schools, but we cannot get a yes answer in respect of each one at the moment," said Mr Wilson.

He did not want teachers' "insecurity around the present S2 to move into insecurity around S3, S4 or S5".

Larry Flanagan, incoming general secretary of the EIS, warned that even if there was 90 per cent compliance with the new qualifications, that meant that 10 per cent were not ready and "10 per cent of the pupil cohort is being disadvantaged".

With Standard grade no longer an option, departments who felt unready for Nationals 4 and 5 should switch to Intermediate qualifications instead, said Mr Flanagan.

But Terry Lanagan, giving evidence on behalf of the directors of education body ADES, warned that such a move would pose "a huge risk to that year group" and involve huge workload issues for teachers. "Intermediate courses don't dovetail with the broad general education that our youngsters receive in S1-2," he said.

He was backed up by Bill Maxwell, chief executive of Education Scotland, who warned that Mr Flanagan's strategy would carry an "opportunity cost" as a large number of young people would miss out for a year on the benefits of CfE.

"If a patchwork of activity was going on across the piece, delivering the smooth support that is necessary for the programme going forward would be much harder," said Dr Maxwell.

Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, ruled out the option of continuing Standard grades for an additional year, saying triple-running three different exams was not viable.


Labour's education spokesman, Hugh Henry, will tomorrow call on the Scottish government to heed union demands for a year's delay and "listen to Scotland's teachers and parents" when he speaks at the Scottish Labour Party conference.

Talks between the EIS and the education secretary, Michael Russell, have so far failed to secure a straight opt-out of the new National qualifications for a year.

It is understood the government is prepared to provide additional resources, money and in-service days.

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