Teachers struggle to adapt to freedom of CfE

13th April 2012 at 01:00
Study finds they are conditioned by culture of testing

Scottish teachers may be so conditioned to exams and testing that even Curriculum for Excellence enthusiasts will struggle to change how they teach.

New research, unprecedented in its detail about individual teachers' responses to CfE, lays bare the gap between their aspirations and the restrictiveness of long-established practices.

University of Stirling researchers have immersed themselves for a year in the working lives of six experienced and enthusiastic teachers - two primary and four secondary - in one unnamed local authority, to produce detailed findings on how the new approach has affected them.

A paper by Mark Priestley, Sarah Robinson and Gert Biesta, seen by TESS, finds a "remarkable" tension between professional habits and the demands of the new curriculum to take more responsibility.

"Teachers have internalised aspects of the culture of `performativity' so that they appear to them as either inevitable or as impossible to object to," they write.

The teachers' ubiquitous use of the word "delivery" was a "powerful illustration" of how they viewed education "as a product to be delivered and potentially measured, rather than as a developmental process for students".

The case of "Judith", a primary teacher, is highlighted. She was enthusiastic about the opportunity to experiment, but lacked confidence and her "reliance on external prescription and central quality assurance seems to have been internalised".

The paper explores the idea of "agency" - of teachers being more proactive in approach rather than jumping to the tune of outside bodies - and stresses that no blame should be attached to staff like Judith, who were being asked to make big changes without the resources to back it up.

Judith's headteacher, "Rachel", had been marked by the "shame" of seeing the school's performance in league tables. She "was concerned about how the introduction of CfE, with a focus on `active learning' and `transferable skills', would fit with what she saw as a continued focus on accountability".

"Abigail", a secondary maths teacher, said league tables based on the results of senior pupils were "very much what the school is measured on".

She understood that, "from the school statistics point of view", it was better not to enter certain pupils for exams: "exam results are what we are ultimately judged on". Several teachers agreed that struggling pupils should not be allowed to sit exams.

Although teachers felt "empowered" by CfE, there was a common caveat: in the words of English teacher "Helen", it remained true that "assessment drives the curriculum".

The researchers say their work raises "important and uncomfortable questions" for policymakers, and underline that "CfE is and remains a central policy issued from the top down".




Separate University of Stirling research conducted in Highland in 2011 shows Curriculum for Excellence being badly hampered by piecemeal approaches and insufficient leadership.

The researchers call for "greater clarity" about CfE policy, having identified tensions between the reform's "big ideas" and its experiences and outcomes.

Implementation had been less problematic in those schools able to "articulate a clear vision for CfE". In some schools, implementation consisted of basically checking whether existing practice fitted with CfE's experiences and outcomes; few teachers were able to meet regularly with colleagues to discuss its fundamental principles.

A clear majority of teachers still backed the reform in principle, but 44 per cent were concerned that it could damage pupils' prospects.

Researchers interviewed 21 teachers and analysed responses from 716 teachers to an online survey.



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