Rush job risks CfE's success

24th December 2010 at 00:00
What do we have to look forward to in 2011?

Cuts to staffing standards, more time in class, fewer resources, CPD cuts, larger classes, attacks on conditions of service, a threatened pay freeze and a UK-led assault on pensions. Happy New Year!

Meanwhile, back in class, teachers are asked to continue implementing Curriculum for Excellence. But the idea that the consequences of this economic maelstrom will have no impact on CfE is fanciful and naive. Progress is largely predicated on teachers' goodwill, which is being seriously strained.

The Budget "deal" on offer to local authorities (a more favourable settlement for continuing the council tax freeze) contains a commitment to deliver CfE. Honouring that pledge, which is what the public expect of politicians, will require a re-think by elected members. These attacks on teachers ultimately equate to attacks on education and it will be pupils who suffer.

Given the barriers created by cutbacks, it is disappointing that the CfE management board has resolved to continue with its advice to Michael Russell that there should be no delay in the timetable for introducing the new qualifications, a strategy that risks a sizable cohort of our current S1 being ill-prepared for changes scheduled for 2013-14.

This is largely because, as schools introduce the experiences and outcomes, they need time to consolidate the changes and develop understanding and confidence around assessment standards - a big workload in itself. Plus, secondaries will have to assimilate the detail of the new qualifications and plan courses which articulate with the broad general education. Where is that extra time to come from?

Draft rationales and course summaries for National 4 and 5 are due to be published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in January, with draft course specifications some weeks later. How are schools to find the resource to reflect on and respond to these documents when we are working flat out to introduce experiences and outcomes?

Publishing documents might achieve a milestone, but if schools don't have time to consider the details, confusion will follow. Communication failure is evident in a number of areas, which only serves to underline the challenge of implementation.

A recent TESS report highlighted concern around a possible narrowing of subject choice in S4 to five areas. That shouldn't be happening. Timetables need to comply with key aims, such as maintaining breadth and facilitating personalisation. The key to the senior phase is to think primarily of two-year courses where most pupils bypass lower-level qualifications and work towards their target level. Such misunderstanding becomes even more possible when procedures are rushed or under- resourced.

Confusion seems to exist around transition to the senior phase, also. Despite recent press coverage, the position around early presentation is clear: it may be apt for some, but the presumption is against early presentation for cohorts.

Early presentation is not unlike the approach to five subjects in S4 - both are based on a treadmill philosophy that sees pupils work their way progressively through a series of qualifications: National 4, then National 5, and then Higher. But that is the approach CfE is trying to get away from.

The fact that such key messages are still going unheard might make the Cabinet Secretary think before he endorses the board's decision on the current timetable.

More broadly, local government needs to recognise that teacher morale is a key factor in schools; squandering the opportunities presented by CfE in pursuit of budget cuts would be a dereliction of duty.

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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