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Developing the analogy #CfE2.0

In my last post, I suggested that the future of CfE lay in the profession taking hold of it and leading the direction of travel. I titled the post CfE2.0 but never really explained why I did so. I think in my geekiness I had assumed everyone would get the analogy, but apparently that’s not the case…thanks @aileendunbar!


I’ve tried to make this clearer with the image above. The analogy I’m using here is the web. In it’s early days, a very small number of people contributed to the web and most people were consumers of this content. We might’ve read the BBC website but most of us would never have actually put anything onto the internet ourselves. Many folks now refer to this as Web 1.0 to distinguish it from our current use of the web. In Web 2.0 most users are producers as well as consumers. Through blogs, twitter, facebook, youtube, flickr and many many other such tools, most people who are online are contributing content to the web as well as reading and watching other people’s content. Web 1.0 is sometimes referred to as the “read” web, whereas web 2.0 is the “read/write” web.

So, what has all this got to do with Curriculum for Excellence? Well we could liken CfE, and all previous curricula, up to now to the early iteration of the internet. A small number of people produce it for a large number of people to “consume” – i.e. deliver to their classes. So, I’m suggesting that the future of CfE lies in becoming a read/write curriculum, or CfE2.0. We should be aiming for teachers, and students, to become collaborators in the development of the curriculum.

But, what would be our tools to achieve this? What would be the equivalent of our twitter? There may be a number of answers to this, but practitioner enquiry seems to be a key one to me. If teachers across the country were engaging in an enquiry approach to developing the curriculum with their classes, based on literature and feeding out into the system, we could begin to make this shift. But what about consistency I hear you ask? Obviously there needs to be some level of consistency and we’ll need to decide where to draw this line. There is a delicate balance to be struck between having a consistent curriculum and one which overly restricts teachers and learners, thus stifling creativity and personalisation. I personally think we possibly need to trim back the experiences and outcomes to allow more freedom…but not bin them altogether. Imagine rather than continuing to moan about this, I was encouraged to research into this with my classes in collaboration with teachers in other schools?

In order for this to happen, there needs to be a few changes in mindset across the system:

  • Considered and thoughtful variation and risk-taking needs to be encouraged in schools.
  • Teachers need to be supported to become enquiring, critical and research-informed professionals through high quality, challenging and masters-level learning opportinities.
  • Teachers need access to academic literature.
  • Processes need to but into place to facilitate the sharing of school-based research with support from academia.
  • Policy-makers need to actively encourage and engage with all of the above with open ears and minds.

I’m aware that in these posts I’m perhaps sounding a little bit idealistic and not plugged into reality…perhaps I am. But I would suggest that many of the above are actually happening already through the implementation of the Donaldson report, the new standards and professional update. All that’s really missing I think is the explicit linking of these professional learning initiatives to a vision for how the curriculum will be developed in the future – however, the principles of the CLTA forums overlap with this view somewhat.

So, in actual fact we could be closer than we might think to this vision of a read/write curriculum…or CfE2.0.


Curriculum for Excellence will be ten years old this coming November. This is if we count its date of birth as the publication of the report of the Curriculum Review Group in November 2004 which was titled ‘A Curriculum for Excellence‘ – which is as good a time as any to measure its age by I think. There are many interesting issues which arise from this policy process reaching double figures…firstly, for some in Secondaries, CfE is only two months old – i.e. it only really started in May of this year when students sat the new exams for the first time! For others, a ten year old policy would imply that we must surely have got to grips with it by now and it must surely be fully implemented – how though do you ever fully implement excellence? For many however, the growing suspicion might be that a ten year old policy is surely in its dying days. Don’t we do big bang reform every 10-15 years or so?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m pleased to learn that there is an effort being made by SG/ES to avoid further big bang reforms through the new CLTA forums and I really hope these are successful in this endeavour. However, are the winds of change already amongst us? As David Cameron mentioned at #PedagooGlasgow, the focus seems to be shifting back to attainment – which is evident from the theme of this year’s SLF. Also, has anyone else noticed that the term ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ seems to be being slowly played down on the Education Scotland website?

Change, I suppose, is inevitable and desirable. This can be hard for many teachers to hear after having lived through the last ten years, but it’s the reality of modern life. The real question therefore should probably be about what sort of change we want and for what purpose? The assumption I was alluding to above is that Government at some point in the coming years replaces CfE with something else. My personal fear in this scenario is that it takes the form of a pendulum swing back towards a focus purely on attainment, testing and rote learning. But perhaps this isn’t the way the change needs to happen?

I’ve long felt that CfE was implemented the wrong way round. To put autonomy onto teachers who have not experienced autonomy for years, does not necessarily feel like a good thing! I’ve argued on a few occasions in the past that we should’ve started with skilling up and reprofessionalising the profession before attempting to implement a new curriculum. I always felt that trying to achieve transformational change through giving out folders and subjecting teachers to powerpoints was unlikely to be successful. But we are where we are, so where do we go from here? Well, we now have in place a relatively future-proof set of policies at their core which we’re all relatively familiar with on some level. At the same time, we’re now in the process of implementing some visionary new professional standards from the GTCS which, I think, up the game in terms of what this job of ours involves – particularly in relation to engaging with, and contributing to, research. As a result, we’re beginning to see an increasing engagement with enquiry and research across the profession. This is more like the form of professional learning which is likely to bring about real change in classrooms I think.

Perhaps, therefore, the time is right for us as a profession to shape the direction of the curriculum in the future. As an engaged and researching profession, we can have the confidence to argue the case for change and make sure the curriculum continues to evolve in the way that we think it should and make it what it should be for our young people. I once wrote a fictional history post which suggested that this is the way it should’ve been the first time, which was always a bit far fetched…but perhaps it’s less so this time round?

So rather than fearing possible further changes to the curriculum in the future, let’s engage in enquiry, debate and policy forums and make sure that change does indeed happen for the benefit of our future learners. Perhaps that’s what CfE2.0 could and should be?


I’ve expanded on this post here.

A new era begins?

On the 24th May 2010, a new SQA Qualification Design Team met in Glasgow to begin the process of coming up with a new suite of Biology National Qualifications as part of Curriculum for Excellence, which I was fortunate enough to be part of. As expected, the meetings which followed over the next few years were a bit of a roller coaster. Whilst there were times when it all seemed to be going well, and there was even the occasional laugh, there were also the obvious stresses and frustrations which go along with this sort of work. All part of the job of course, but it still took its toll at the time.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that after years of numerous trips to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling to be stuck in a conference room reading endless documents (including at weekends), followed by lengthy planning sessions for the Local Authority and in school, that I’m now actually beginning to look forward to teaching National 4 and 5 for the first time this week! Of course the qualifications and courses we’ve ended up with aren’t perfect, show me one that is, but I’m at least convinced that they are an improvement on the courses and qualifications they replace, which is ultimately all we can realistically expect to achieve.

Perhaps the most exciting thing though isn’t the new courses…it’s actually the opportunity (impetus) they’ve given us as a department to refresh the way we do things in the classroom. We’ve been making such progress with our courses in S1-3 it actually makes sense to alter our approach in the Senior Phase for these students also. Otherwise they would’ve had quite an incoherent secondary school experience.

Of course, it won’t be all plain sailing…there’s still a lot of work and learning ahead…but focusing on the learning and new opportunities will hopefully sustain me once all that work piles up…I’m pretty sure that teaching the new courses should be a lot more fun than designing and planning them!

More Change Ahead?

Depending on when you measure it from, the new Scottish Curriculum (or Curriculum for Excellence as it’s more commonly known) has been around in one form or another for approximately nine years given that the report from the Curriculum Review Group was published in 2004. In these days of rapid changes in society one could argue that a decade would be around the right sort of time to begin the process of looking again at what’s happening in our education system. However, in terms of the process of implementation of the new National Qualifications, which most Secondary teachers rightly or wrongly will be measuring implementation of the new curriculum by, we’re only half-way through. The cohort who are the first to sit the new NQs are currently in S3 with potentially three more years of school ahead. With no one yet to sit the new qualifications, I can just imagine the sharp intake of breath at the mere suggestion of a major curriculum review. However, in case you’d missed them there have been two substantial reports on the progress and direction of change in Scottish Education in recent months. As a result I’ve been wondering two things. Firstly, does this signal the beginnings of further policy change? And secondly, are there any overlapping themes in these reports which might signal the direction of any such changes should they occur?

The reports I refer to could almost be looked at in the opposite order from the sequence they were published. The most recent one “By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education” was published this week by Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy. This report is more standard in its format and approach having taken a series of written submissions and produced a report brimming with numerous recommendations. Whilst clearly aiming to improve Education in the future it does so by attempting to paint a picture of the current situation and then a make a series of recommendations which could be implemented in the short to medium term.

The first of the reports, published last month, is “By 2025, Scotland will be regarded as a world-leading learning nation” by the Goodison Group in Scotland and Scotland’s Futures Forum. This report takes a radically different format. Having held a series of events with different groups of stakeholders the final report takes the form of scenarios. It presents four possible visions of the future and outlines approaches groups could take to engaging with these scenarios. To me therefore, this would seem to be more about identifying the future we wish to achieve and working out the necessary steps we ought be taking to get there.

Obviously I can’t really do justice to both reports here, you’ll need to read them yourself, but what sort of change do they indicate? Are there any overlapping themes? For me, there are two major similarities between the two reports. Both seem to indicate that we still have a lot to do in terms of equality & social justice and that sufficient changes to the structures and processes of schools have yet to be achieved in order to meet the needs of our citizens in the 21st Century. This is perhaps best summarised by the axes in the following diagram from the GGiS report:

This I think correlates with the following recommendations from the CfSPP report:

2 The Scottish Government should make clear that it views Curriculum for Excellence as a long-term process of iterative change rather than a one-off programme intended to achieve only specific short-term objectives such as the introduction of new qualifications.

5 Change processes in Scottish education are not as effective as they should be. The improvement of these processes must be seen as a matter of the highest priority.

7 The allocation of support for pupils and schools experiencing disadvantage should be reviewed and needs to be better targeted. More of the available support should follow the individual disadvantaged learner.

8 Talented staff should be encouraged to teach and remain in schools in the most disadvantaged areas. Such schools should be resourced in a manner that will make them attractive places in which to work and develop a career.

10 A dedicated centre for the improvement of educational outcomes in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities should be established.

17 At all levels of the system, vigorous and sustained effort is needed to create in Scottish education a sense of common endeavour, an understanding that learning is co-produced and a culture of mutual respect.

20 The autonomy of schools should be greatly extended. As a general principle, decisions that can competently be taken at school level should not be taken elsewhere.

By Diverse Means: Improving Scottish Education

There are more also, but I think that’s more than enough to demonstrate the overlap. So, is a replacement to CfE on the horizon? The CfSPP report rightly points out with its first recommendation that there’s no real need. All of these ambitions are set out in the Curriculum for Excellence documents and there is therefore just a need to realise these ambitions still. I suppose that ideally it shouldn’t really matter what we call these policy initiatives as long as we achieve the outcomes we hope and aim to achieve, but I suspect the name might well matter. A.V. Kelly (no relation) rightly points out that the success and failure of changes to educational policy lies in the hands of teachers. Whilst many might baulk at the idea of further change, it could be argued that if there is a widespread perception in 2016 that it’s job done because the cohort has progressed all the way through the new NQs then any further substantial change might be difficult to achieve, perhaps creating the need to indicate the necessity of further change through a “new” policy. Either way, for these much more ambitious outstanding aims of Curriculum for Excellence, it will require a much more sophisticated approach to implementation, support and leadership than has been managed thus far. I think the approaches described in the GGiS report demonstrate the sorts of professional development opportunities which will be needed, as well as the CfSPP’s recommendations on leadership and research, such as:

32 Steps should be taken to strengthen educational research in Scotland.

One thing I am very pleased about is that both of these reports encourage us to continue on the journey we’re already on. If we don’t continue to persevere with this direction of travel as a profession and a society I fear that one day in the future these sorts of reports will begin to look a lot different and begin demanding that we start taking backward steps instead…we only need to look South to see just how possible this is.

Unleashing the Complexity

Assessment in the new Scottish Curriculum is still a hot topic for all involved. Obviously there’s the looming (or present for some schools) implementation of the new National Qualifications, but there’s still a lot of head scratching going on around assessment in 3-15.

Whilst there are obviously many issues around the new approach, there are a particular group which interest me. These are around the complexities which arise from the new model of assessment in 3-15. I’ll broadly categorise these as…

We’re not as sure about where pupils are at. Without the National Assessments how can we be sure which level a pupil is working at? This for me is the wrong way of looking at it. Could it be that we were never sure? Perhaps the National Assessments provided a false sense of confidence as they papered over the complexities that were always there? People are complicated learners. We will never know precisely where one learner is on their journey and any categories will always be imperfect. This will be especially the case when the categorisation is achieved through a limited piece of assessment. Isn’t it the case that the 5-14 levels were originally supposed to be assigned by the teacher based on a wide range of evidence with the National Assessments used more as a secondary benchmarking tool? That sounds much better than the way it appeared to have ended up in many cases. If we are ever confident that we have a system that can simply and easily categorise something as complex and lacking in understanding as learning into a number of boxes, then we have gone seriously wrong. Learning, and learners, are complex. Assessment and judgements of progress should therefore be complex also, we should worry if they are not. We need to try and relax a little and revel in the complexity.

What do we do with pupils who haven’t achieved a level? Let’s ask this another way…what we do with pupils who haven’t progressed as much as others? This isn’t a new problem. Surely the issue of pupils progressing in different ways and at different rates didn’t arrive with Curriculum of Excellence? I’m not claiming that the issue of differentiating in a classroom is easy, I’m just trying to suggest it’s not new. It has, perhaps, been brought more to the fore as a result of what I’ve already discussed above. If complexities of progress have been brought out due to a more holistic approach to assessment, perhaps this is more likely to lead to the identification of a differential of progression in a class. Again, although this isn’t easy to deal with…surely this can only be a good thing from the pupils’ perspective?

How can we report to parents without “robust” evidence? For me, this question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of reports to parents. We are not the SQA. Our job is not to “assign” grades or levels which need be backed up with tons of rigorous evidence. The purpose of a report to parents should be to communicate progress in such a way to allow parents to support their children to make whatever next steps are required to improve. As such, I think it’s more important that the comment in the report reflects the complexities of the young person’s learning, than providing some sort of “reliable” level. In which case we need a holistic approach to assessment which allows us to validly access all the different forms of progression and not over rely on one particular form of summative assessment in our quest for reliability.

These thoughts reflect my own developing understanding of assessment in Curriculum for Excellence as a teacher and CfE Development Officer and I’m sharing them here in the hope that they help other teachers…however, I also appreciate that until those that hold us to account take a similar approach to assessment and progression we’ll always be a bit up against it. But, that’s not a reason to give up. We need to keep embracing the complexity and pushing others to do so too. Otherwise, we risk selling our learners short.