Schools have been told by the inspectorate to raise their game and speed up progress on implementing Curriculum for Excellence.
But the uncompromising message from Ken Muir, one of the chief inspectors of education, comes at a time when, as revealed in The TESS survey last week, budgets for continuing professional development are being slashed throughout Scotland.
The dim view which HMIE takes of that news was reflected in Mr Muir's reference to CPD as an "important prerequisite" to build the teacher capacity necessary to implement the new curriculum.
Despite the ongoing squeeze on CPD budgets, schools would continue to be judged on how they were approaching teachers' professional development, Mr Muir made clear. Addressing a CfE conference in Stirling last week, he said inspectors would want to be satisfied that CPD was well planned, that a variety of approaches was being used and that teachers were sustaining their own CPD through self-evaluation.
Despite the unpromising backdrop for implementing CfE, Mr Muir gave notice that the inspectorate would adopt a new approach in the new year to "hasten implementation". Until now, HMIE had simply been focusing on highlighting good practice in relation to the reform, while steering clear of criticism.
The inspectors' current role supporting schools struggling to implement the new curriculum had revealed a tendency for "reviewing the curriculum", Mr Muir told the conference.
Progress needed to be faster, he said. Too many secondaries were waiting for the new qualifications, but that could not be an excuse for failing to make progress with CfE, which he described as being about creating a high- performing education system.
Teachers were developing programmes using the experiences and outcomes, but inspectors going into schools next year would want to know if learning was stimulating. Was it challenging? Was there effective development of higher order skills? Was there good progression in the knowledge and understanding of skills? Was inter-disciplinary learning promoting effective links?
Inspectors would also be taking a close look at literacy and numeracy, Mr Muir said: "To what extent do (teachers) understand their responsibility for delivering literacy and numeracy? To what extent are they familiar with the experiences and outcomes in literacy? And to what extent are they using them to plan delivery across learning?"
In terms of tracking pupils' progress, inspectors would be seeking evidence of Assessment is for Learning principles and practices embedded in classrooms. "Do staff know how well individual youngsters are progressing? Do youngsters have a clear idea about what they are learning, what success looks like, what's expected of them? Are they involved in reviewing and setting their goals for learning? Do staff provide high- quality feedback?"
The role of schools in raising awareness among parents would be another HMIE preoccupation. Mr Muir acknowledged that many schools had held curriculum workshops for parents and open days, put up displays or sent out leaflets and newsletters. But discussions with parents revealed many still thought CfE was about "tinkering with the curriculum". There was a lot of work to be done to remind parents that CfE was "something more transformational", he added.
Mr Muir pledged that HMIE would not act as "a drag anchor" on schools' plans. School curricula were becoming more "bespoke", and inspectors would evaluate schools in their contexts.
`WE'RE NOT READY YET'
Half of teachers do not feel ready to deliver Curriculum for Excellence, a new survey has found.
Teachers' concerns centred around funding at a time of cuts; arrangements for new exams; continuing professional development; and time to deliver.
The survey of teacher perceptions of the new curriculum was carried out by the Educational Institute of Scotland and involved 130 teachers.
But it was not wholly bad news. Three-quarters of teachers felt they had been adequately involved in the planning process, and around two-thirds said that resources, including time, had been identified. Nevertheless, the time set aside had proven inadequate to deliver the required outcomes, the survey found.
And there were significant concerns around assessment, with just 11 per cent of staff saying they were confident in this area.
Meanwhile, only 6 per cent of respondents felt the timescale for implementation drawn up by the Scottish Qualifications Authority was realistic; only 5 per cent were confident in their understanding of National 4 and 5 qualifications; and only 9 per cent were confident in their understanding of the final literacy and numeracy proposals.
The report said: "The fact that CfE implementation is so far down the road is testimony to the level of teacher professionalism and goodwill.
"There is a real fear, however, that in this period of austerity, the lack of availability of resources, including CPD opportunities and time, will impact on the success of future CfE developments."
DEMAND FOR DETAIL
The Royal Society of Edinburgh has called for the impact of Curriculum for Excellence and any changes stemming from the Donaldson review of teacher education to be thoroughly evaluated to provide evidence of "what is and what is not working and why".
Before any analysis of CfE could be carried out, more precise information about what was expected of pupils by the time they left school was needed, the RSE paper continued.
As well as statistical analysis, research was needed on non-statistical data, for example through collecting written accounts of how the curriculum is being interpreted.
The paper also called for the Scottish Survey of Achievement to be reinstated. This would allow the acquisition of core skills to be monitored and would address concerns that CfE "neglects knowledge in favour of skills", it said.