The Inspectorate has delivered a disturbing verdict on progress towards Curriculum for Excellence, highlighting a lack of readiness in some secondary schools even to prepare the new S1 intake for the new qualifications in 2013-14.
But it also challenges the general assumption that secondaries are struggling while primaries are not, warning that in a third of primaries the pace of implementation has to be stepped up.
Local authorities are handed a warning to raise their game and provide leadership in bringing about the curriculum changes. Their effectiveness has "varied widely" and they now need to "take stock of their approaches and their impact", it says.
Some schools and departments need greater support, while the Government and national agencies need to develop and communicate the remaining pieces of national information demanded by secondary schools on qualifications, literacy and numeracy awards, models of the senior phase, assessment exemplars and guidance on reporting, it adds.
The HMIE report, based on 154 inspections carried out between August and December last year, was presented to the CfE management board which did not feel it was sufficient evidence to delay the reforms.
The report found that almost half of primaries were at only an early stage of reviewing their curriculum and only a quarter had an "appropriate focus" on continuing professional development for CfE.
Half of primary inspections also noted the need to promote staff understanding of the implications of CfE for their teaching.
The picture is equally disturbing for the pre-five sector, which earned plaudits for its early adoption of CfE. In half, says HMIE, staff were not familiar with the principles of CfE; in a third, there was a need for more CfE-related CPD.
The secondary sector has been significantly more vocal about its concerns over the reforms, and HMIE's report highlights significant variations in readiness both within schools and across schools.
It found that around half of secondaries were still at an early stage of reviewing their curriculum; around a quarter were only at an early stage of "considering the implementation of CfE"; and another third needed to "focus more on the design principles and ensure that the curriculum delivered the entitlements of a broad general education".
In a few secondaries, HMIE said "staff were not clear about CfE due to insufficient strategic leadership on the curriculum".
Although inspectors noted that momentum had increased noticeably in recent months, they warned that schools were nevertheless at different states of "readiness" to ensure that "the forthcoming S1 intake will experience learning and teaching sufficiently based on the experiences and outcomes to allow them to proceed successfully towards the new qualifications in 2013-14".
In some schools there was not only a lack of strategic leadership and planning but a lack of suitable CPD "resulting in ideas and principles not being well understood". Responsibilities for literacy, numeracy and health and well-being were "poorly understood" in some.
"Whilst most subject departments had begun to consider the experiences and outcomes, there were still examples of them being considered in a cursory manner with superficial `auditing' which amounted to no more than showing how their current courses and programmes could theoretically `cover' the experiences and outcomes," the inspectors stated.
Having delivered a fairly damning indictment on progress, the report then noted: "This level of variation is typical of the pattern of adoption and implementation of major curriculum developments in Scotland and other countries across the world.
"It is particularly the pattern where development aims to improve practice by changing the approaches of practitioners through CPD and sharing good practice, rather than through providing detailed and prescriptive curriculum guidelines."
As long as strong leadership and support is provided alongside the right CPD, HMIE appears confident the progress can be made. But it warns that some will have to take "prompt action" or "be supported to meet the timescales and enable their young people to succeed".
Despite this evidence of patchy progress, Bill Maxwell senior chief inspector of education, said it had to be considered along with "reassurances and a wide range of further information from other organisations, as well as developments such as the Government's 10-point plan and actions being taken by local authorities".