One of Scotland's most eminent educational researchers has called on the Scottish government to commission a "proper independent evaluation" of Curriculum for Excellence.
"It needs to be said loudly and clearly that an internal evaluation carried out by Education Scotland a few years down the line will simply not be acceptable," Walter Humes told the annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association in Ayr last week.
An internal evaluation would "bring back memories of the bad old days when the inspectorate were allowed to evaluate policies which they had helped to develop and implement in the first place," warned Professor Humes, visiting professor of education at the University of Stirling.
He said it was "regrettable" that the government had not yet commissioned an independent study into CfE.
In a speech entitled "Political Control of Educational Research", he also castigated the government for its defensive response to research published earlier this year by Stirling researchers Mark Priestley and Sarah Minty, in which they examined the implementation of CfE in Highland.
Dr Priestley and Ms Minty concluded: "Our research has convinced us that Scotland has a highly professional and motivated teaching workforce; however, such engagement has been rendered difficult for many by a lack of clarity and coherence in the documents that have guided implementation, and the lack of systematic processes for closing the implementation gap between policy and practice."
But in the face of sensationalist headlines in some parts of the media, the government had given an "ill-judged" response, said Professor Humes.
"Instead of acknowledging that the research contained some positive findings (eg, that more than half of the survey respondents reported that their school had made good progress in implementing CfE) and that a mixed picture was only to be expected at this stage of implementation, the government reaction was to try to present the study as out of date and unrepresentative of the country as a whole," he said.
"Perhaps the hope was that by attempting to dismiss the research, the government's 'feel good' narrative would prevail and pesky researchers would learn not to take on the big boys in Holyrood PR."
He added: "When Mark defended his position... the result was that the story actually received much more coverage than the government would have liked."
It was a regrettable fact, said Professor Humes, that some officials consistently failed to learn the lesson that "honest engagement with bad news as well as good is likely to be a better long-term strategy than concealment or misrepresentation".
Since then, however, official reactions had changed from "defensive paranoia" to a "willingness to engage with the researchers", he added.
Three key areas
Walter Humes identified three important areas of educational research that were either under-developed or non-existent:
- Further and higher education in Scotland: notably current arguments about the relative funding allocations for FE and HE, and the mergers taking place within the FE sector;
- The need for a centre to study the economics of education in Scotland: decisions about the allocation of funds that would become more critical as the effects of cutbacks began to bite; whether the Scottish position on student fees was sustainable beyond the next election; whether more resources should be devoted to the early years; and whether community learning and development should cease to be treated as the "Cinderella service";
- Daily advances in the fields of genetics and neuroscience: the potential implications for our understanding of human learning and development were "immense".