Exams reform has been a long time coming

31st May 2013 at 01:00

Today in TESS we bid a fond farewell to Standard grade, which will - on Tuesday, when the last students sit the last paper (credit accounting and finance) - cease to be a feature of the Scottish educational landscape.

It is more than 25 years since the Standard grade was introduced, but it came too late for the generation that inspired the reform - their children's children were the first to benefit from this new approach to education, which set out to end non-certificated classes and ensure that no one left school with nothing to show for more than a decade of effort.

This glacial pace of change was lamented by the Commission on School Reform, which reported earlier this year. Curriculum for Excellence had also been a bit of a drag, it pointed out. The original policy statement relating to Curriculum for Excellence was published in November 2004, but the first children to sit new examinations will not do so until next year, nearly 10 years later.

The commission recommends that Scotland should take a long, hard look at how it implemented major educational reform. In the future, the assumption is that we are going to have to be more adaptable if we want to avoid becoming the fat kid, wheezing and lagging behind the rest of the pack. Innovation needed to become part of daily practice, not something passed down from on high every few years, the commission said.

To hammer home the point, its report begins with a with a quotation from a general in the US army, George S. Patton: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

While many in this week's TESS lament the passing of Standard grade, the increased workload and strain which the reform placed on teachers in the 1980s was, as much as pay, at the root of a decade of mistrust between the profession and the government.

Today, the tension is building over Curriculum for Excellence. Last week, our front cover asked whether teachers were at breaking point after a new survey of almost 4,000 primary teachers revealed substantial increases in workload for the vast majority - and this in the sector which is meant to be "doing CfE" already. Meanwhile, the EIS teching union is threatening an escalating campaign of action unless the Scottish government addresses teachers' "increasingly unmanageable workload".

Almost every major change, if it is worthwhile, has produced "uncertainty and difficulty", says Professor Graham Donaldson at the end of our cover story. But we need to ask ourselves: does it have to be this way and does it have to take so long?

emma.seith@tess.co.uk, TESS reporter.

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