A curriculum for Excellence is a tricky balancing act. Creativity, curiosity and critical skills must be taught and learnt, achievement celebrated and progress made on narrowing the attainment gap between rich and poor. At the same time, standards need to be maintained and even improved.
Can it be done? Can creativity and individuality blossom while achievement and attainment are rigorously assessed? And how will anyone know if the products of our schools are successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors?
Until the end of S3, assessment will be an "integral part of learning and teaching", carried out by teachers "wherever the learning has taken place" and by pupils through their own records of achievements and skills (Building the Curriculum 3).
After S3, when pupils enter the realm of exams, the Government proposes new awards for literacy and numeracy, one exam to re- place Standard gradeIntermediates, and a variety of flexibility options such as embarking on Highers in S4 (A Consultation on the Next Generation of National Qualifications in Scotland).
But the new exam structure will not be in place until 2012-13. In the meantime, besides its key role in the current consultation, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is funding action research projects to investigate ways that "quali- fications and assessment can support and enable Curriculum for Excellence aims, values and principles".
Four of this year's projects examine assessment and qualifications for the young people who are most at risk of being unemployed or having no further education. "We are trying to provide different opportunities for all learners to gain certification," says John Allan, qualifi- cations for the future manager at the SQA. "So there is a focus on personal development, core skills and skills for work.
"An Anniesland College project, for example, looked at embedding the assessment of core skills rather than having separate courses that students often don't enjoy. They brought communication and vocational teachers together to plan how to assess both in one course. That cultural change took time, they report."
Another project, at Dollar Academy, has been studying ways of pulling together physics, engineering and economics, "so that high achievers can develop scientific skills with environmental and economic awareness" (TESS, August 29).
Broad lessons learnt from the projects include the need to set up communications, particularly planned meetings, right at the start of interdepartmental initiatives, and that change takes longer than expected because people need time to adapt to new structures, ideas and ways of working.
Elsewhere in the projects, blended learning and skills for work were studied at St Luke's High, Barrhead and curriculum design and core skills at St Margaret's Academy, Livingston. Staff at Trinity Academy, Edinburgh report on "improved attendance, attainment and achievement" through a citizen-ship project in which pupils assessed themselves using new personal development units from the SQA.
Personal development assessment will feature strongly in this year's tranche of projects, says Mr Allan.
"Our aim in all this is to explore ways of developing and assessing the four capacities. We won't have separate certificates for each of them. We will be looking at how to gain robust, quality-assured evidence of young people's achievement and attainment in a more rounded sense.
"We now have outcomes and experiences in Curriculum for Excellence that are broad-ranging and imaginative.
"But we need to maintain standards. We must have quali- fications that are fair and that tell employers and universities something useful about the person who holds them. No, it won't be easy to do all that - but I have no doubt whatsoever that it can be done."