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Posts tagged with: change

The business end of CfE

For Scotland’s Secondary Schools, we’re now reaching the business end of the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. By this I mean that we’re about to begin the process of implementing the new National Qualifications – I don’t for one second think we’ve yet got anywhere close to actually implementing the curriculum as a whole, that will take some time yet. However, as we reach this difficult moment of significant change there is a natural apprehension which seems to be leading to ever increasing confusion.

Given the current level of coverage of CfE in the press, any Scottish teacher is likely to be asked their thoughts on all of this, and I am no different in this regard. Where I do feel particularly fortunate, is the opportunity I had on an 18 months secondment to have the reasons for this change clearly and repeatedly explained to me through challenging and engaging discussions – if only this opportunity could have been made available to more. As such, I am very much in favour of the changes and more than comfortable with the direction of travel. If you watch the news or read the papers, you would think that I must be completely unique in this regard, I know for a fact I am not, however I would accept that we seem currently to be in the minority. So then, I thought I should try to outline some of my own thoughts on all of this on here…

Why do we need Curriculum for Excellence at all? Why do we need to change?

There’s a strange contradiction around CfE. On the one hand it is often described as “transformational change”, and yet on the other you’ll often hear teachers state “it’s what we do already”. So if it’s not a change, why all the fuss? As far as I’m concerned, little of CfE is new. Everything in the documents was already happening either in pockets of the country, or in pockets of time throughout the country. Or, as in the case of formative assessment, occurring throughout the country most of the time, but superficially.

CfE is about refocusing the entirety of the school curriculum onto a common purpose and striving to take these pockets of good practice and make them universal. It raises the bar and says that the quality of learning and teaching must be improved across the country, at all stages, and at all times. It takes widely accepted pedagogies such as formative assessment and active learning and builds them into Government policy. Sure, there have been flaws in the implementation of this change, but that doesn’t for one second diminish the need for, or the nature of, the change in the first place.

Why do we need to change the National Qualifications?

The Scottish Qualifications had got themselves into a bit of a guddle. We still have the now dated looking Standard Grades sitting alongside a suite of National Qualifications which don’t quite articulate. On top of that, if we’re changing/improving our view of learning, teaching and assessment surely it makes sense to update the Qualifications also? Otherwise, if we were ultimately leading to the same destination as before, the chances of us being able to make the desired changes would be reduced. Again, as always with these things, this could probably have been done better – but I think that the SQA have done a pretty stirling job under the circumstances.

Why should National 4 have no national exam?

This one’s an obvious one to me. One of our current equivalent courses to National 4, Intermediate 1,  is very much a skills based course. The unit content is very applied and the whole course could be approached from a “skills for work” type perspective. However, 100% of the grade for the course is determined by a traditional examination paper in a hall, in silence. Whilst this approach to assessment might be appealing to many teachers (who all successfully navigated the academic world and therefore view it favourably), the media (likewise) and many parents (either likewise, or if not, we spend so much time telling them that exams are all that matter that they believe us) but it’s simply not a valid form of assessment for this course.

Now, obviously, any variation from this form of assessment is going to bring issues of reliability – but these need to be dealt with in their own right. We can’t set about solving issues of reliability by making assessments invalid for the forms of learning we’re hoping to achieve. That’s not to say that tests can’t form part of the course assessment, but they do not need to form it all and they do not need to be set nationally. This more local approach to assessment frees up learners and teachers to take a more flexible approach to the learning.

I will finish this one by pointing out that I am (hopefully) about to receive an MEd (SCQF level 11) and I haven’t sat one exam, and all of the assessment has been internal. Even worse, there isn’t even an SQA equivalent to tell the University what they should be assessing! I simply do not understand why we cant take a more valid approach to assessment at SCQF level 4 if we can achieve it at level 11!

Why should schools be changing from 2+2+2 to 3+3?

This one’s particularly contentious just now. The reason 3+3 appeals to me is that it has the potential to allow us to treat our learners as people rather than cohorts. We currently have a situation whereby everyone churns through the two-year middle school in all subjects, which is a legacy of Standard Grade, whether its appropriate for them or not. I would like to reach a point where students are choosing courses at appropriate levels and for appropriate time-periods based on their own needs. I believe that the 3+3 model has a better chance of allowing for this. I’m also in favour of reducing the time we spend jumping through SQA hoops from four years to three in the Secondary school. Whilst the new National Qualifications should be more in line with CfE than the current qualifications, they’re still going to be national examinations for the large part. The more time we’re free to focus on and develop learning for its own sake the better I say. Let’s spend as little time capturing and certifying this learning as possible.

Why has all this proved to be so difficult?

Change is difficult. We’re creatures of habit. Things haven’t been helped by some of the approaches to implementation – but it was always going to be an uphill battle. Everyone was on board when it was just the four capacities, but as soon as it came to having to make real changes to the day-to-day, it became a lot tougher. What’s difficult just now is trying to work out who has the genuinely thought through grievances and who is just shouting no because they don’t like change. I think we should be very careful not to lump these groups together as both are in many ways understandable and predictable.

For many, the problem with the National Qualifications lies with the speed of their implementation. But this only applies if you’re sticking with 2+2+2. For these schools, which have chosen to ignore the national guidance, they are finding themselves in the awkward position of starting these qualifications before they have finished being developed in August of this year. But they knew this when they made their decision regarding the curricular model. For schools moving towards a 3+3 model, they will not begin teaching these qualifications until August 2013 – which is inline with the implementation timeline.

In my own opinion (for what it’s worth), there should be no more delays. I don’t believe the last one achieved anything…we’re creating a curriculum, which while still obviously flawed (they always will be), is an improvement on what has come before. Let’s get on with it for the benefit of our learners.


Following my post this morning, I got an interesting reply on twitter from Don Ledingham;

@ We are thinking about setting up an event for staff to develop such a framework for EL Any ideas how we can give teachers ownership?
Don Ledingham

I was, of course, very intrigued and replied as follows;

@ Wow. A cracking question can I give it some thought? We should also ask how we can give learners ownership too? Event for them 1st?
Fearghal Kelly

This has since snowballed on twitter and has now evolved into #LearnMeet, which is beginning to look something like this;

My Idea for 1st #LearnMeet is a central Edinburgh venue, for senior pupils (S6) to give their ideas and opinions. Held after school hours.
Ruairidh Nicolson

I’m struggling to say what I think on all this, especially in 140 characters – so I thought I’d try a wee blog post instead…I’d like to start by saying I have nothing against the suggested format for a LearnMeet proposed above by Ruairidh – it could be great and I’d be encouraging our Seniors along. However, I think this is disjointed from the original discussion.

I really like Don’s idea, and I think it’s important that pupils and parents have opportunities to input into this framework…but this needs to be done as part of the system. Schools and Local Authorities need to continue to increase the opportunities for a wider range of stakeholders to formally input into the direction of learning and teaching in schools – but this needs to be taken seriously and carried out properly. If the students and parents consulted are to feel as though their opinion really matters, they need to be giving it in an appropriate context…which can of course be augmented by social media, but not entirely reliant on it. And if those who will be developing the framework are to take this input seriously, they need to be confident in the mechanism by which it was acquired…i.e. not in a fringe, twilight event with a small selection of our learners.

I think I would frame this process as updating East Lothian’s Teaching & Learning Policy, which as far as I know hasn’t been touched since 2007. I would certainly be wanting to involve as many pupils, parents and staff as possible in the process through a combination of physical face-to-face groups and online engagement with a clear outcome/framework produced as a result…

Educational Values

I wrote recently about the strange feelings I went through when changing practice in a way that shouldn’t have been strange at all, and I’m still mulling this one over. I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that it is all to do with our educational values as teachers and the status quo bias.

I’ve just started reading a book that has been sat on my bookshelf for ages – Nudge. In it the authors introduced me to the concept of ‘status quo bias‘:

The status quo bias is a cognitive bias for the status quo; in other words, people tend not to change an established behavior unless the incentive to change is compelling.

That is certainly something I recognise in my own practice, and I’m sure I’m not alone. So, what gives us this compelling incentive to change? This can obviously be many things…to save us time?…financial?…better results…?…better behaviour? But even then, sometimes these rewards simply aren’t enough to change our deeply ingrained practice as teachers. Which is where our educational values and beliefs step in. We will only make these perceived big leaps if we have a clear understanding of our educational values and a desire to bring our practice in line with these. You’ll see therefore why I like the following quote so much from James & McCormick (2009):

The tensions and dilemmas that teachers face and their struggles to bring their practice in line with their educational values, whilst coping with pressures from outside, were a strong feature of their learning in the classroom. Some appeared content with ‘going through the motions’ of trying out new practices but a small proportion (about 20%) ‘took them to heart’ and, with a strong sense of their own agency, tested and developed these ideas in their own classrooms in creative ways. The challenge for us was to find out what kinds of support within and beyond schools would allow the twenty per cent to grow to nearer one hundred per cent.

This, in many ways, is what my first module of the Chartered Teacher programme was all about way back in the first half of 2008…and I’m only really getting it properly now. This is why we need to stop rushing around looking for new ideas which we’ll never really embed properly, but take the time to examine our educational values and then develop our practice accordingly. Although it can feel like a waste of time in our ever busier lives, it’s crucial.

It’s the only thing that actually really works.

Getting to know the E’s and O’s

I know, I know. The experiences and outcomes have been around for ages now. Surely we’re long past getting to know them? In my experience however, this simply isn’t the case. Many of us seem to have taken something from them first time through, but now that we’re approaching the blunt end of assessment and reporting we’re beginning to wonder if we got them right.

Through our work with Myra Young, we’re being encouraged to take another look at the experiences and outcomes – this time starting with the purpose. This can often lead to a quite different approach to planning. Rather than looking at the experiences and outcomes and jumping straight to the activities we’d carry out, we think first about what the purposes of the outcomes are in terms of learning, how this could be evidenced and what the success criteria are.

On our inservice days next week at my new school, we’re lucky enough to be receiving CPD from teachers at Cramlington Learning Village with a view to planning our lessons using the accelerated learning cycle. But first I’m going to suggest that we need to ensure we understand the curriculum before jumping into detailed collaborative planning of lessons based on the learning cycle.

This can be illustrated with one of our science experiences and outcomes. Whilst in the past this might have led to us planning a series of lessons covering all the various organs of the systems we feel we need to ‘cover’, a fresh look at the purpose of the learning outlined in the curriculum brings a different emphasis and therefore quite different lessons.

We often complain the experiences and outcomes are vague and complex (which they are…but do we really want a version of the National Curriculum instead?) but if they are how can we expect to be fully familiar with them already? As difficult as it is to accept from the perspective of development work (which is going to get worse when the new NQs start arriving), the reality is that our understanding of the curriculum is going to evolve over time and I’m doing my best to try to keep my mind open to that…

Cross-posted on pedagoo.org

Professional Development and Professional Learning

I was at Uni this afternoon for the final session of my penultimate MEd module – and the last CTeach module for a while!

At one point we were having a particularly interesting conversation so I thought I’d put up a wee tweet:

Discussing the difference between professional development and professional learning #MEd #CTeach


Fearghal Kelly

Which generated an interesting reply…

@ I thought about that for 5mins and tied my brain in a knot.Must be cyclical relationship no?Hope you will blog your answer later 🙂


Dorothy Coe

Unfortunately I don’t have time to do a full blog post, but I couldn’t ignore such a request!

We were discussing this in the context of leading our collaborative professional enquiry and the need to try to encourage our colleagues not to view participation as a passive CPD opportunity, but rather an opportunity for them to actively develop their own learning. Loughran’s (2010) definitions were really useful to explain a possible difference in the two phrases:

Professional Development has typically been understood as the more traditional approach to in-service that teachers often experience when they are asked to implement a new curriculum or some other policy initiative. In many cases, the waves of change that regularly flow over the profession generally involve some form of up-skilling in relation to the new things that we are expected to do or to deliver. Therefore, traditional professional development is often linked to the implementation of some form of educational change by doing something to teachers, that is, telling us about the change and expecting it to then be carried out. In this way mandated changes are presented, we are trained in those changes in terms of technical requirements (sometimes as simple as re-labeling existing curriculum and practice) and then we are expected to implement those changes. It is a top-down approach and it functions in a similar way throughout the education system whether it be in the form of policy initiatives from the central education bureaucracy or at local school level from the principal’s office.

And professional learning…

Professional learning operates in a different way. Professional learning assumes that we have some commitment to the change(s) – that the change might be driven, or developed and refined, by us. In essence, professional learning works on the bases that change is a result of work with, and/or by, teachers. Further to this, professional learning also carries an expectation that we are able to bring our expert judgement to bear on how change might best be implemented in our own context and practice. Therefore, professional learning is more about the learning that occurs through the process and how that learning is then able to be applied in our practice. Involvement in professional learning is therefore more likely to be voluntary, and the subsequent learning is personal and appropriately shaped and directed by each of us as individuals.

What do you think Dorothy?