So, our new curriculum has the potential to become “among those leading the world”, says the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (see pages 6-7). And Curriculum for Excellence is something “Scotland is rightly proud of”, according to leading educationalist Andy Hargreaves, who is based at Boston College in the US, and who was a member of the four-strong team that reviewed CfE.
On the surface, this seems to be a great start to the season of goodwill to all men. On the other hand, teachers would probably argue that their goodwill has been tested, not just for a few months, but for many years as the new curriculum has bedded in.
That process started with the national conversation on education in 2002 and many argue it will never be over, because CfE will continue to evolve. However, a huge milestone will be reached next year when the first cohort of secondary pupils to have experienced the new curriculum and qualifications finish S6 and move out into the big wide world.
It’s been a long road; some would argue too long.
CfE wasn’t intended to dictate what was taught in Scottish classrooms – its aspiration was to free up teachers to teach – but that meant it was down to them to deliver its goals. And teachers have had to do this at a time when it must have seemed as if Ebenezer Scrooge himself was in charge of the public purse.
Every area of school life has been hit by cuts. Things that were once deemed staples, such as photocopying, have been rebranded as luxuries. Support personnel, from quality improvement officers to clerical staff, have been disappearing like snow off a dyke. And, for a long time now, there has been no money for cover staff to give teachers much-needed time away from the classroom to breathe and digest all this change. Then again, even if the money were there, supply teachers have become as rare as finding a high street store in December that is free from cheesy Christmas tunes.
All this hardly makes for the ideal environment in which to introduce massive curricular reform.
Then there are the qualifications that have been introduced to chime better with the new curriculum. The OECD review looks at the broad general education from 3 to 15, but it recognises that “the qualifications have arguably absorbed a great deal of the system’s energy”. Certainly, it’s the workload associated with the new qualifications in the senior phase of secondary that teachers have just indicated they will take industrial action over unless something changes.
The next move will be a statutory ballot in the new year. Whether that happens will depend on how discussions between the EIS teaching union and the Scottish government go. The EIS is demanding a major review of the new qualifications and changes that will reduce workload in the short term.
There is undoubtedly work to be done – the OECD review makes 12 recommendations – but there’s still plenty for Scottish teachers to smile about (as if the arrival of the Christmas holidays were not enough); let’s not immediately start looking to the next hurdle. And let’s not be too Scottish about the OECD review. It is significant when eminent academics in your field say you have created something to be proud of.
In 2016, we at TESS will continue to shine a light on how we can improve and strive to be better – as we have been doing for the past 50 years. But for now, congratulations to you all and happy Christmas!
Emma Seith (@TESScotland)