Heads flounder under CfE

19th October 2012 at 01:00
But some school leaders are adapting well to the curricular reforms

Some headteachers who excelled in the past are floundering under Curriculum for Excellence, an audit of all schools in a Scottish council has found - but others are adapting quickly to the reform.

Heads who viewed CfE as "transformational change" and had in place strategic plans covering at least three years have progressed most rapidly among Scottish Borders Council's 73 schools. But much work remains to be done: as few as one in 10 schools may have a strategic plan.

The audit identifies confident headteachers with a clear vision as key to successful implementation of CfE, but past successes may count for little.

"Some heads who have done well in inspection in the past and run a tight ship have often built that tight ship around the structures that were pre- Curriculum for Excellence," said Yvonne McCracken, the council's head of school services.

These structures were now irrelevant, she said. Ways had to be developed of "describing learning and progress" rather than "simply attributing levels or percentages", said the audit report.

Heads who took a collegiate approach and had direct involvement in learning and assessment practices were the most successful, the audit found.

They looked inside the school to create development opportunities for staff rather than to outside experts or courses, added Ms McCracken.

"Some schools were hanging on like grim death to what had worked until someone came along to give them something that could stand in its place," said Ms McCracken. "They were the schools that were struggling."

Some schools had tried to reinvent 5-14 by taking the achievement categories in Building the Curriculum 5 - developing, consolidating and secure - and turning them into levels: D1, D2, D3, for instance.

This problem had also emerged in other authorities, said Ms McCracken.

She added: "The focus should be on teaching and learning in every classroom rather than reinventing 5-14."

The audit report said: "It was evident that headteachers who had approached this as a change management programme and had focused on fostering strong professional dialogue around teaching and learning displayed higher levels of confidence. Where collegiality was embedded in the school, confidence was higher. Where confidence was lower, headteachers lacked a clear vision of the way ahead and looked for central direction and support."

The audit results made for "uncomfortable" reading at times, said Ms McCracken. Only a small number of Borders schools - about 10 per cent, she estimated - had a strategic plan.

"All schools had aspects planned but only included this in the one-year SIP (school-improvement plan)," said the report.

The most urgent need for support was around effective arrangements to assess and track progress.

As a result of the audit, Scottish Borders Council has developed an action plan to ensure good practice is shared and a series of authority-wide workshops. It has also put together a team of senior education officers and headteachers to offer "interventions and support".

The first round of workshops focusing on creating a clear strategic plan would take place in a few weeks, said Ms McCracken.

"Looking at every aspect of Curriculum for Excellence was a bit like opening a can of worms but there is exciting practice already out there and we now know where schools need help."

The "deep audit" carried out by Education Scotland earlier this year was criticised for being flawed and superficial by teaching unions. It concluded that just 21 departments in Scotland's 367 secondaries needed additional support to implement Curriculum for Excellence. Scottish Borders Council decided that "a fuller" implementation audit was required.


Audit process

The Scottish Borders Council CfE audit was conducted between April and June.

It measured progress in schools based on the seven characteristics of successful implementation identified by the Curriculum for Excellence management group which include having a strategic plan in place, good leadership and good-quality CPD.

Six senior education officers had one-to-one discussions with the headteachers of the Borders' 73 schools for three to four hours.

Photo credit: Getty

Original headline: Former standout headteachers can struggle with CfE

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