Reform - Primaries 'leading the way' with CfE

13th December 2013 at 00:00
Progress praised by inspectors but curriculum not yet 'cracked'

The implementation of the new curriculum in primary schools has been rated as "very good" by a strategic director at Education Scotland.

Primary schools had "led the way" when it came to developing Curriculum for Excellence, Craig Munro told delegates at the Primary Education: A Brighter Future? conference.

Early indications from the past three years of inspection were that the quality of education was improving, he said, adding that the majority of primaries were good, very good or excellent and in the two years up to June 2013 no primary had been rated "unsatisfactory".

By contrast, he said, "an unsatisfactory rating was not uncommon if you look back over the last decade of inspection".

Inspectors identified several key strengths in Scotland's primaries, including confident and motivated children, wider partnerships, the ability of the leadership to improve learning, teamwork and a commitment by staff to getting better.

The curriculum was a main point for improvement, which was unsurprising given all the change that was under way, Mr Munro said. He added that self-evaluation, tracking and monitoring also needed to be looked at, and learners needed to be stretched more by upping the pace of lessons.

Mr Munro stressed that final results from the latest round of primary inspections spanning the past three years would not be out until Easter next year, and warned that although progress was good, the sector had yet to fully "embed" and "crack" CfE.

He urged primary staff to "keep the heid", not to get bogged down in overly bureaucratic processes and to focus on pedagogy, equity and skills.

"Cultural change is a difficult thing. I would argue that we are creating something we believe will take us into the top-performing systems. We have to keep our nerve and believe in the original philosophy," he said.

For its part, Education Scotland would tackle any excessive red tape it came across during inspection and try not to be responsible for creating overly bureaucratic processes, he said.

Mr Munro's comments came in the wake of a report published in late November which found that schools were becoming bogged down in paperwork attached to CfE.

The report was produced by a group charged with tackling bureaucracy linked to the new curriculum, which was set up by education secretary Michael Russell in June in response to teachers' complaints.

It states that teachers are becoming trapped in red tape generated by over-detailed planning and assessment and systems for tracking and reporting that are "not fit for purpose".

The report is also critical of the use of overly time-consuming ICT planning and reporting systems.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, speaking at the same conference as Mr Munro, described bureaucracy as "a dead hand lying on top of Curriculum for Excellence".

The biggest complaint from primary staff about CfE was about excessive weekly and termly planning and the writing of reports, he said.

In May, almost 90 per cent of the 3,868 primary and nursery teachers who responded to an EIS survey on the new curriculum reported that their workload had increased in the past year.

More than 80 per cent rated the increase as "high" or "very high", Mr Flanagan reminded delegates.

Some of the systems introduced by schools might have been necessary in the early days of the new curriculum as staff gained confidence, he conceded.

But he felt it was time to move on and called for CfE to be relaunched, re-establishing key priorities such as decluttering the curriculum, doing away with unnecessary paperwork and placing the teacher at the heart of teaching and learning.

He said: "Tracking progress should not be about the ICT system you have got but about the pupil. If it is time-consuming and detracting from teaching and learning, it should be changed.

"These systems are removing creativity and spontaneity from learning and are not placing the teacher as the professional at the centre."

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