The world of 'double speak'

30th November 2012 at 00:00

No, Derek Thompson, you are neither stupid nor innumerate (Letters, 16 November). You are living, like the rest of us, in an almost Orwellian world of "double speak", where it is assumed if contradictory statements are made often enough, they ultimately become the truth.

The statement in the Curriculum for Excellence briefing quoted is just the latest attempt by Education Scotland to, Janus-like, reconcile the principles of a broad general education in S1-3 and pressure from the government, which wants parents to be reassured that it is business as usual in senior schools, namely, pupils can take up to eight qualifications in S4.

This attempt to "retro fit" current systems on to the CfE senior phase is worrying, but the attempt to pretend that is an intentional outcome of a coherent strategy is deeply depressing.

Although National Qualifications are 160-hour courses, according to the SQA we don't need all this time as we should be "taking account of prior learning" and pupils will have "covered" so much in earlier years. Teachers have been taking account of prior learning long before CfE, but we didn't assume it.

The CfE experiences and outcomes and the National 45 courses are not the same. If they were, what would be the point of continuing with CfE in S3? Why not start National Qualifications instead, thereby enabling pupils to study eight courses? Option choices at the end of S2, eight NQs studied during S3-4.

Sound familiar? Clearly that is the decision taken by many schools across the country, sensitive to the perception that parents will view any fewer than eight qualifications at the end of S4 as short-changing their children.

At the same time as suggesting it is possible to study eight qualifications in S4, advice from Education Scotland makes it clear that early specialisation that closes off options in S4 is to be avoided. But this surely is exactly what will happen if pupils choose individual subjects to study in S3, unless they continue with these into S4.

Consider the experience of S4 pupils taking eight qualifications. Each course will have three unit assessments and a value-added assignment, and that is before taking into account practice assessments, re-assessments and prelims, all in one year. Schools that maintain the option of eight qualifications in S4 will have to start delivering National courses in S3, if only to spread the burden of assessment. What is this but early specialisation?

As a result of contradictory messages, the positive impact of CfE on improving pupils' learning experience in S1-3 will, I fear, be diminished as the demands of examination courses leach further into S3 and beyond.

There are many schools and authorities that have taken a principled stance and kept faith with the philosophy of CfE. Unless the guidance from Education Scotland ceases to be so ambiguous, how long will they be able to resist this headlong rush "back to the future", where the number of exam passes trumps all else?

We need greater clarity and direction from the centre, and we need it now.

Jeremy Morris, Kirriemuir.

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