Why Parliament was right to want a curriculum review

The implementation of Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence has left educators facing myriad unintended consequences, says Barry Black

Barry Black

'Why Parliament was right to want a curriculum review'

On Wednesday evening, the Scottish government suffered a rare defeat in Holyrood when MSPs called for a full review of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). First minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that the government will take this forward, "whether or not [they] consider that, that is necessary".

The emerging evidence, however, points to a range of unresolved and unintended consequences which exist as a result of CfE’s implementation.

Issues within the senior phase are well-documented. Whether it is the narrowing number of subject choices, particularly in poorer areas, the progression and structure of new qualifications or the prevalence of multi-qualification teaching in classrooms, there are numerous issues which clearly impact upon young people’s choices and chances.


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While a review into the senior phase is ongoing, many of these problems gain their roots across the whole curriculum and need to be viewed holistically, not least the attainment gap in CfE levels that exists and grows as pupils progress.

Research has found significant variation in S1-S4 curricular structure across Scottish schools. Of 224 schools analysed, 164 different structures that could be loosely grouped into 10 patterns were found. While curricular autonomy is important, assessing any impact of such variation has would be a worthwhile aim of the review.

Related to this, the report by the Scottish Parliament's Education and Skills Committee raised questions around the purpose of S3 and the transition into S4. It unanimously concluded that these issues existed regardless of the curricular structure of a school, and that a lack of coherence between the broad general education and the senior phase "was the result of problems during the implementation of the CfE".

There has also been the bizarre spectacle of Scottish government agencies publicly disagreeing with each other over the structure of the new National qualifications. It is apparent that more clarity and consistency around these matters is needed.

A debate also rages on over the quality of data in Scottish education at all levels. A review would draw needed conclusions about the evidence currently available and how this needs to be improved going forward.

As many of these issues were unintended consequences, it follows that there is no planned educational benefit to them. In Scottish education too many stakeholders have conversations in absence of each other.

The review could resolve many of the disagreements and drive forward further progress for our young people – but first there are unresolved problems that must be tackled urgently.

Barry Black is a postgraduate education researcher at the University of Glasgow. He tweets @BarryBlackNE

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