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The CfE Priority…?

Sometime ago I was rather confused about what Curriculum for Excellence would mean for me and my pupils. Due to a lack of information around I decided to delve into the documentation myself and try to identify the essence of CfE. I wanted to pin down a priority which I could take on board and apply in my lessons. After much reading I began to realise that involving pupils more so in the learning and assessment process was key to many of the other aspects of CfE. A key quote from BtC3 (page 26) which reflects this is:

“Planning should encourage participation by, as well as being responsive to, the learner, who can and should influence and contribute to the process.”

I summarised my attempts to put this into practice in a blog post and as an essay for the CT programme. I also presented this work at TeachMeet SLF09.

Today I attended a BtC5 launch seminar which involved an excellent workshop task. Within our group of ten we each had a section of the document to read and we had to identify what was different from current practice. I was reading pages 18 to 22 and picked out the following statements:

  • assessment process need to promote learner engagement
  • assessment practices should be seen from the perspective of the learner
  • learners should be engaged in all aspects of assessment processes
  • and be afforded an element of choice and personalisation in showing that they have achieved the intended outcomes
  • learners need…feedback…about how well and how much they have learned
  • approaches to assessment that enable learners to say “I can show that I can…” will fully involve them
  • children and young people can develop their confidence through thinking about and reflecting on their own learning
  • including through personal learning planning
  • developing their skills in self and peer assessment
  • learners will build confidence and take ownership for managing their own learning
  • by focusing on the processes of learning
  • children and young people should agree learning goals and should record them in ways that are meaningful and relevant
  • staff should use assessment information from a wide range of sources
  • the learner, parents and other staff…all can contribute…to setting targets for learning

Now these are clearly not going to be absent from the practice of all teachers in all schools, but these are what I felt will be new and challenging for many Secondary teachers. Perhaps this list is more a reflection of my own shortcomings as a teacher? However, I think you would probably agree that once again the theme here is involving pupils in the process.

I believe that the most significant shift for teachers and pupils in the Secondary school is the move to involve pupils in the learning process to a greater extent. This means giving pupils the opportunity to contribute to planning the lessons and how they are going to be assessed. This therefore means that the lessons and assessments can not be planned in detail before the piece of learning commences. We, as Secondary teachers, tend not to be very comfortable with this.

This, however, is fundamental to this entire of business of curricular change. We need to foster confident and successful learners who can contribute effectively to society. How can we do this if we continue to pre-plan their learning and spoon feed them it? If we can successfully crack this issue, I believe that the rest of CfE will slot into place a lot more easily.

Some Secondary teachers may not be comfortable giving up their current planning system to involve the pupils in the process and wont be convinced by the argument I’m attempting to string together here. To these teachers I would like to point out two things. Firstly, as our Primary colleagues get to grips with this way of thinking we’re going to find that our S1 pupils are going to be less and less tolerant of having their learning pre-planned for them. And finally, what are you going to say to HMIE when they come to visit and they ask the pupils in your class how much involvement they have had in planning their learning and assessment and they reply “none”?

Photo from woodleywonderworks


  • Reply Dorothy Coe |

    Good thinking Fearghal. Can I add that there’s an important group missing here – parents.

    A little illustrative story:
    We use a termly assessment tool which is a sheet called “What my teacher says” in which teachers are meant to comment on aspects of the children’s progress – responsiblilty, effort, co-operation with others etc. by highlighting good, excellent, room for improvement, cause for concern. (The meaning of each term is explained separately) Last year and this, I told the children in my classes they could highlight what they thought I’d say, or what they’d say about themselves, then I sat with each one of 25, and we discussed where I agreed or didn’t, highlighting my opinion in a different colour. It transformed a fairly meaningless summative assessment into a reflective one that was far more useful for the children and me, and the dialogue that came out of it was illuminating in many cases.

    Hovewer, a set of parents came in promptly, complaining that “The sheet says “What my teacher says” so why is my child being asked to fill it in?” I had thought it was perfectly obvious, and even worthy of note that I had spent so much time with the children individually in this way, and the sheet then became only a brief record of a much more valuable discussion. Many parents however, are stuck in summative assessment mode. Many still want the grade, the mark, the Level, even at P1 or 2.

    We still have a long way to go in explaining to parents the philosophy of helping children take responsibility for their learning, but we must get going with this because without their support, it will be much more difficult for children themselves to take this on.

So, what do you think ?