Small but mighty steps forward with CfE

25th January 2013 at 00:00

Secondary schools have exhibited greater anxiety than other sectors over implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. Today we are reminded by Bill Maxwell, chief executive of Education Scotland, that education system reform "can easily take a decade or more" (Comment, page 35). So, when two secondary schools, St Andrew's Secondary in Glasgow, and Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire receive outstanding HMI reports, judging them against new CfE inspection criteria, the sector should take note.

These two schools are only six miles apart from each other, yet are very different: one denominational, the other non-denominational; one set in an area of high deprivation, the other more middle class. Yet their headteachers have, quite separately, identified some common areas of priority when it comes to delivering CfE.

Inspectors were impressed with their S1-6 structures and pathways and the clear rationale behind them. But structures are only a means to an end. It is the schools' focus on raising standards in teaching and learning, which in turn has seen pupils' attainment improve, that has been the deal-clincher.

Gordon Moulsdale, head of Bishopbriggs Academy, used the phrase "closing the deal" when he was analysing the reasons for his school's success. Once they had made up their minds to do something, they did it, he said. And while there is no magic formula for delivering CfE successfully, the three schools featured today for their successes (page 5) can perhaps provide some vital clues as to what it is that inspectors want to see in practice.

Hightae Primary, an 11-pupil school in rural Dumfries and Galloway, should provide a wake-up call to all those council authorities who argue that it is impossible for small schools to deliver CfE successfully. Judith Jardine, head of Hightae for the past 30 years, has proved it can. And while her school is making headlines for its success, let's congratulate her pupils on their own journalistic scoop - securing an interview with the inspector reviewing their school for the community newsletter they write each term. Take it from TESS - that is no mean feat.

Education Scotland has promised to disseminate some of the innovative practices at Bishopbriggs Academy, St Andrew's Secondary and Hightae Primary. That approach is to be applauded - because an outsider reading the Education Scotland parent letters, summarising the inspection findings, gains little real insight into what really made them outstanding.

Is the time not ripe for Education Scotland to restore some of the detail provided in the previous incarnation of inspection reports? Currently, most of that key information is confined to the confidential Record of Inspection Findings (RIF) report. And while it is right that some information should remain for the senior management's eyes only, we need more, not fewer, insights into what is and isn't working.

Elizabeth Buie, Deputy editor.

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