Quit chasing the wagging tail of assessment

2nd April 2010 at 01:00

The clamour from some quarters to further delay implementing Curriculum for Excellence appears to arise chiefly from concerns about the nature of examinations in upper secondary.

This frustrates me. I well remember the implementation of Standard grade and Higher Still, when nothing happened until the van-loads of teaching and learning materials arrived in schools. I cannot be the only one hankering after the day when the arrangements document for the exams could be fitted into your back pocket.

For decades, we have bemoaned the fact that the assessment "tail" wagged the curriculum "dog" in Scottish education. Here we have the opportunity to regain control of teaching and learning and shape the examination processes and structures.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority needs now to issue short, sharp, definitive statements which would avoid any need to postpone the new qualifications to 2015. How will the senior phase of secondary school articulate with a broad and general education? How different will the new qualifications be? Will they be skills-based or assess knowledge, understanding and skills? How many courses are young people expected to study in the senior phase?

We have had years of engagement in which we have already undertaken a great deal of work at school, local and national level in devising a curriculum which enables young people to develop the four capacities.

I am concerned that a delay will send the wrong message and that those who have not fully engaged so far will continue to wait - to wait for those van-loads of restricting materials.

In our school, staff are ready to implement our agreed S1 curriculum in August 2010. We have prepared and resourced the development of courses in each of the eight curricular areas. We have embraced the necessary pedagogical change. Now we are about to shift our focus and devote energy and resources to discussing appropriate assessment and reporting.

I believe the differences in levels of preparedness across the country are a major leadership issue. It is the difference between taking ownership and taking the initiative, rather than waiting for the delivery vans. We have travelled the path of delay before, to no avail. Those who were waiting then are still waiting. Maybe a looming deadline will focus attention and get the work done.

Isabelle Boyd, headteacher, Cardinal Newman High, Bellshill.

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