Posts tagged with: curriculum for excellence

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.

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.

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.

The uncomfortable truth about Curriculum for Excellence

The problems facing Curriculum for Excellence have finally been identified. Carole Ford demonstrated them clearly in her recent article in the TESS.

If you know me your jaw may well now be on the floor. What? Fearghal agrees with Carole Ford’s piece!?! No, rest assured, I haven’t done a U-turn. No, I don’t agree with her points at all, but I think she unintentionally demonstrated why CfE is struggling to gain traction in so many parts of the country. Obviously there are many issues such as support, time, funding etc.; but perhaps the greatest barrier is the support for school leaders in understanding the change, which then impacts on their ability to lead the changes in their schools.

There are many points in her piece which I disagree with, but I’ll pick out a small sample to illustrate my point. In reference to literacy and numeracy she says:

pupils who fail to develop appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy skill in primary school rarely make good this deficit later in the educational process. The CfE solution to this is not, as one might expect, to focus attention on the primary years of schooling but to place responsibility for both onto secondary teachers. Thus we have physics teachers teaching literacy and French teachers teaching numeracy

I find this statement to be shockingly inaccurate for two reasons. Firstly, CfE is continuing to place a strong focus on literacy, numeracy (& health and well being) in the primary stages as well as secondary. And secondly, secondary teachers should not be ‘teaching literacy’ in place of their subject specialisms – but rather using their subject areas as contexts to develop these skills where appropriate. Throughout the broad general education the intention is to improve young people’s literacy and numeracy levels – this is not the sole domain of primary teachers, as any secondary teacher will tell you (bemoan)! Whilst there may well be a number of secondary schools around the country which are requiring their staff to be ‘teaching numeracy’ in place of their subject area, I would argue that this is not the fault of CfE, but of the school leaders who have misinterpreted the documentation.

She goes onto use a similar argument regarding interdisciplinary learning:

interdisciplinary learning, advocated by CfE, is a whole bone of contention in its own right. Why is taking a teacher out of his comfort zone a good thing? Do you wish to be treated by a doctor who is operating out of his comfort zone? The logic of interdisciplinary learning is that I will make better progress in German if the teacher is not fluent in German but pretty good at French or Spanish. In the language of Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”

It’s surprising that an article which criticises the lack of evidence presented to support CfE only itself contains a quote by Homer Simpson, but anyway, interdisciplinary learning. I personally don’t believe that interdisciplinary learning is the holy grail one might think it is if you listen to certain people, but I still think the quotation above misses the point. Interdisciplinary learning is not supposed to be about French teachers teaching German. It’s supposed to be about providing young people with opportunities to see their learning in a more joined up way and be beginning to make connections between the artificial barriers we’ve created between the subjects. This is a skill which I always say marks out the top candidates in Biology, and it is one which is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s world.

Once again, there may well be many teachers out there having to teach a subject outside their comfort zone under the banner of interdisciplinary learning and CfE, but I think Carole Ford is inadvertently highlighting an issue with her colleagues – not Curriculum for Excellence. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many barriers facing the implementation of CfE, but not all of them lie with the policy documents or the national agencies – as demonstrated by this article.