Key curriculum adviser 'despondent' over attitude to reform

20th May 2011 at 01:00

One of the key advisers to Learning and Teaching Scotland says he is "despondent" about misinformation surrounding Curriculum for Excellence and many teachers' reluctance to adapt to the reform.

But there is also cause to be positive, George Smuga told an influential gathering of educators at Stirling University this week, particularly in how CfE is helping primary pupils across Scotland make the transition to secondary school.

"I can feel despondent," said Mr Smuga, an independent consultant contracted to LTS who advised the Scottish Government on CfE after retiring as headteacher of Edinburgh's Royal High. He largely blamed coverage of CfE in the mainstream media and the knowledge that this was where parents often derived information.

He cited as an example one article in a national newspaper which had argued that CfE would consign weaker students to educational failure by sending them into the world at 16 without externally-validated qualifications - a reference, presumably, to plans for the proposed National 4 to be assessed within schools.

Mr Smuga highlighted, too, a common problem of teachers with blinkered attitudes: those with philosophical objections to CfE who carried on with their old ways of working. "It's more than a cliche that if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll get the same results," he told the conference on qualifications and assessment.

Another group which caused him concern was those teachers who agreed that fundamental curricular change was necessary to prepare pupils for a fast- shifting, unknowable future, but did not go far enough in practice. "Sometimes there's a failure of nerve," he said.

On the plus side, Mr Smuga said he was finding P7-S1 transition "much better" than in the past. The idea of a seamless education from pre-school to 15 was taking root, rather than S1-3 being exclusively about preparation for S4-6 and qualifications.

There were fewer discipline issues in S1 as a result of smoother transition, he said, and teachers had a better idea of what to expect when pupils began secondary school.

The conference was organised by ELT Consultants, with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, HMIE and LTS.

Lack of clarity over Highers

Senior management staff at the conference expressed disquiet about the lack of clarity from universities over how they regarded two-year Highers - and the Scottish Government did little to set their minds at ease.

Lesley Sheppard, a Government official who handles "senior phase" issues, told delegates that most universities insisted it made no difference whether a Higher was taken over one or two years. But she added: "I understand it does depend on who you ask." She added: "Principals generally say it doesn't matter, but when you start asking people within the admissions service, they have different interpretations."

This was an issue being raised in "very positive" discussions with universities, and she felt "some may get to a point where they're not looking for five Highers in one sitting".

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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