Time to 'stop pretending' about problems in Scots schools

Scotland must "stop pretending" that a recent overhaul of the schools curriculum is working and undertake an immediate reform of classroom teaching, experts have warned.

John Swinney ordered the review
John Swinney ordered the review

The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was implemented after years of cross-party development, but the Commission on School Reform, an independent group of education experts set up by the think-tank Reform Scotland, says it has resulted in falling standards in education.

A lack of focus on knowledge in the teaching of Scotland’s children is at the heart of concerns raised by the commission in a submission to the OECD ahead of its review of the Broad General Education (BGE) phase of CfE.

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The commission, chaired by one of the original version of CfE’s architects, Keir Bloomer has suggested the review can contribute to reassuring the public about the quality of Scotland’s schooling.

"The truth is that the schools which perform best at the moment are those which have largely ignored the 20,000 pages of guidance which accompanied the implementation of CfE," Mr Bloomer states

“It is critical that this third OECD review of CfE understands the differences between the curriculum as conceived and the curriculum as implemented, which are stark and consequential.

“Scotland’s educational performance has evidentially been moving in the wrong direction during the tenure of CfE. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) recorded a substantial decline in maths, reading and science.

He added: “Our own Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy has recorded a decline in literacy and numeracy at all levels.

“It is now time we stop pretending that we are doing well, and we hope that OECD will, this time, open the bonnet of CfE rather than simply adjudicating on the bodywork.”

Education Secretary John Swinney ordered the OECD review to be extended across the entire curriculum for excellence after losing a vote in the Scottish Parliament. The original plans was to focus on the senior phase of schools.

There have been concerns about a narrowing of the choice available for pupils in S4, which in turn limits the choice of Highers which pupils can then take, as well as excessive teacher workloads and guidance associated with the new curriculum.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said CfE ensures children and young people have “more options” in their education, and that their wider achievements and skills are recognised alongside qualifications.

“More young people are achieving at least one Higher or equivalent compared to when CfE was introduced, the number of school leavers who went on to positive destinations such as work, training or further study increased to a record 95% in 2018-19, and 64,274 skills-based qualifications have been awarded this year – up from 37,106 in 2014,” he added.

“The breadth of learning delivered by CfE – which helps equip pupils with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century - was reflected in the recent PISA global competence assessment, where only two countries achieved a higher average score than Scotland.

“It is incorrect to state that Scotland has withdrawn from the PISA assessments, which are one of a number of sources of data which support our objective of continuous improvement. We have committed to the PISA assessments in 2022 and we look towards the recommendations for the ongoing independent OECD review into CfE to further inform progress.”

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