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Br i efi ng Pa p er (10-01)

NO V E M BE R 2 0 1 0

Scottish Government Parliamentary Debate: CURRICULUM FOR EXCELLENCE

1 Through its Education Committee, the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotlands National Academy, identifies and promotes priorities for education in Scotland, and at all stages. Scottish school education is facing two important reforms the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, and the reform of teacher education that will follow from the Donaldson review when it is published towards the end of 2010.The new curriculum has been frequently described by ministers and other educational leaders as the most significant reform for a generation.That alone would make it likely that the Donaldson review would also have to recommend radical change, and in any case it is likely to do so because of growing dissatisfaction with the character of teacher education, both initial and continuing. It is therefore timely that the Scottish Government has initiated a Parliamentary debate on Curriculum for Excellence.The RSE offers the following briefing paper to aid the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and to provide MSPs with background information for the Parliamentary debate. The RSE recognizes the strong support that Curriculum for Excellence commands from the political parties in Scotland. Indeed, the RSE welcomes the aims and values of Curriculum for Excellence, particularly the concern with applications and real world relevance; the focus on active learning, together with discussion, debate and critical thinking; and the opportunities for teachers to take creative action.The RSE is concerned, however, with the scarcity of leadership, advice and curricular resources that are being made available to implement this innovation, the management of the implementation (particularly the lack of involvement of those with classroom knowledge in the central decision-making) and the monitoring of the fundamental learning that emerges from the real-life experiences. Clearly Curriculum for Excellence has an ambitious long term agenda for changing educational climates and ways of thinking, especially in primary and early secondary schools. There is a priority to establish a shared understanding of what will count as success in such a venture. Implementation of Curriculum for Excellence 4 The implementation strategy for Curriculum for Excellence should consider the following key aspects: > There is a need to provide a clear overall management plan that identifies clearly the strategic direction of Curriculum for Excellence, and where the leadership and responsibility is vested for each aspect of the programme. This should put the programme into the hands of those with commitment and teaching or other appropriate experience at all levels, including that of the individual school. > Continuing effort should go into effectively communicating the fundamental purposes and vision of the programme for the 21st century and the ways in which it challenges traditional teaching and schooling. This should stress the importance of raising intellectual demands, identifying what is worthwhile knowledge and exploring how this engages with the prescribed Experiences and Outcomes. It is not clear to the RSE that there is consensus among those developing the reforms on the importance of knowledge and intellect, and to that extent the RSE also believes that the clarity of the aims needs to be improved as well as their communication. > A plan for continuing development, improvement and good communication over the long-term should illuminate ways of achieving the desired educational transformations through short term actions and accustom teachers to new ways of using their own creative ideas. Such a plan has to take seriously the importance of enthusing and inspiring teachers. > Curriculum for Excellence implies a diversity of practice that should be addressed and plans made for the effective leadership of that diversity in the circumstances of a long-term devolved programme. In particular, the implications for assessment, traditional examinations and HM inspections of diverse and innovative systems should be publicly discussed.

Br i efi ng Pa p er (10-01)
> There is a need for systematic evidence, rigorously analysed, in order to evaluate the impact of the reforms. Unfortunately, there seems to be no formal monitoring of the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence despite the many years of argument and evidence on the value of formative evaluation. > What is offered to teachers should be material advice that is more straightforward, shorter, simpler and more accessible than that offered so far. It should address progression and higher order skills. > Much greater emphasis should be placed on high quality Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This is particularly important in some areas such as primary science. New approaches are needed to replace traditional away-days followed by assumed cascades of information to colleagues. Much of the required CPD can be provided only by subject specialists in universities (as distinct from the university faculties and schools of education or the local authority subject advisers).This is as true for primary teachers as for secondary. > There is a need for a scheme that recognises and rewards individuals or schools that have pioneered developments in Curriculum for Excellence. Part of this should be the facilitation of the dissemination of good ideas. 5 In the sections that follow we make reference to many of these key aspects and comment on ways that would help improve the current implementation of Curriculum for Excellence. A consensus could be reached by teachers of each specific subject, consulting with disciplinary experts from other sectors such as universities, research institutes and business. Government and its agencies, however, do have a role in encouraging the development of these common aims. Research and Evaluation 8 A frequently enunciated principle of Curriculum for Excellence is that it is intended to be decentralised. The nature of the reform will vary by school, or perhaps even by classroom or the individual child. Specifying what the reform actually is requires careful analysis, made more difficult by the controversies that have surrounded its development. As already indicated, there seems to be no formal monitoring of the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence.There is then a pressing need for systematic evidence, rigorously analysed, in order not only to evaluate the impact of the reform but also, first, to understand what it means.That evidence has to be produced in a manner that is independent of the policy processes that produced the reform, and has to be publicly available for further scrutiny by researchers other than those who generated the data.These principles of independent data independently analysed are the necessary accompaniment of a reform with the principles of Curriculum for Excellence: it is the only way to reflect in debate about the reform the pluralism that seems to be its central principle. Research is thus not an arcane activity separate from the development of policy. It is the tool by which policy is understood.

Leadership 6 There is an absence of a clear framework of leadership, management and responsibility for all aspects of the Curriculum for Excellence programme and there is a real need for transparent national leadership in its implementation. Curriculum for Excellence provides for a greater extension of school autonomy, with a more flexible system in which schools and teachers have significant input into the direction of learning, which we welcome. However, we have grave concerns that, if not properly worked through, it could lead to different agendas being set in schools throughout Scotland.There is a pressing need for continuity in the curriculum and a common experience for all users. The development of common understandings of the structure and details of a curriculum is not the same as centralisation of control of the curriculum.

10 Without proper evaluation, we would not properly understand the effects, nor the inevitable partial failures, and so we would not know whether the money allocated to the reform was being spent wisely. We would not be able to build upon the successes nor intelligently modify the failures. Innovations however promising require good research if they are to be made to grow into better policy. 11 The RSE has recently published an Advice Paper1 on the importance of evaluating educational reforms and Curriculum for Excellence specifically, which we commend to the Scottish Government and MSPs.

1 An Agenda for Research at a time of Educational Reform in Scotland, RSE Advice Paper no. 10-13, November 2010.

Br i efi ng Pa p er (10-01)
Support for Teachers 12 The successful implementation of Curriculum for Excellence requires a significant strengthening in the disciplinary expertise of primary teachers, and in the inter-disciplinary features of the teaching of all subjects in secondary and primary.There will have to be much more frequent and widespread participation by teachers in professional development in specialist subjects and in pedagogical issues (e.g. concerning the particular difficulties of relating disparate subjects to each other). Curriculum for Excellence therefore has significant implications for teachers initial education and for their continuing professional development. 13 Maintaining and developing professional knowledge and skills is a key indicator of continuing professional competence.A great deal more time and resource must be given for CPD of teachers in their areas of disciplinary expertise and in fostering of interdisciplinary working.This renewal and enhancement of subject skills for teachers should have equal prominence with the welcome new opportunities which have been provided for the development of pedagogical and management skills. More must be done to establish a vision for CPD. Linking the CPD needs of teachers with the Higher and Further Education sectors 14 Closer links for schools with Higher Education and Further Education academic and education departments could facilitate important developments in CPD. This has not always been seen as an urgent matter in tertiary education where priorities have been for research, engagement with industry and recruitment of students.There are, however, some good examples of collaboration with schools which could be built upon. 15 Given the increasing emphasis being placed on the impact agenda and the allocation of funds for knowledge exchange and public engagement activities, there is an opportunity to develop a coherent system for linking the CPD needs of school teachers with the HE / FE sectors. In this context, we welcome the steps being taken by Universities Scotland, the Scottish Government and other partner organisations to develop a strategic approach to Higher Education engagement with Curriculum for Excellence. 16 The RSE along with other bodies has played a supportive role in developing preliminary ideas to enhance science CPD.This has included exploring the possibility of using cluster based models for CPD and greater collaboration between schools, HE and FE, and industry.These ideas have been made available to Scottish Government officials. Guidance, Materials and Exemplars 17 Whilst the scope given to teachers to interpret the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes is welcome, teachers cannot be expected to invent a detailed syllabus for themselves.There is some concern that the advice offered for teachers through the Building the Curriculum series and the Experiences and Outcomes offers no convincing overall framework and suffers from interpretation difficulties and inadequate attention to progression. There is a pressing need amongst the teaching profession for guidance and exemplars which would link both content and skills to a more coherent learning journey. 18 The RSE notes the important role played hitherto by local authority subject advisers as sources of support for teachers and schools in the localities. We are concerned that the diminishing number of local authority subject advisors will mean that it will be difficult to ensure the level of support required for teachers, let alone develop a common approach to Curriculum for Excellence either within local authority areas or throughout Scotland. 19 Last year, the RSE and the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) recognised a need for exemplification of how the tasks of interpreting Curriculum for Excellences experiences and outcomes and of translating them into classroom work, materials and laboratory or outside activities might be addressed.A Chemistry teacher was, for a year, seconded on a part-time basis to explore this for a subset of the learning outcomes and experiences as they relate to Chemistry.Work has primarily concentrated on materials suitable for late primary and early secondary, as these are the areas where there is greatest concern about the confidence of some teachers to teach science in late primary it is unlikely that the teacher will have specialist scientific qualifications, whilst at early secondary a teacher is often teaching outwith their core discipline. 20 Exemplar materials for Chemistry that map out teaching strategies consistent with the requirements of Curriculum for Excellence have been produced. The project has also considered the demands on resources and teachers time required for the development of the materials, and whether these are reasonable in schools current circumstances. The materials, to be launched later this month, will be available to teachers throughout Scotland. 21 Given its multidisciplinary Fellowship, the RSE is well-placed to draw upon experts to provide independent advice on other discipline areas.

Br i efi ng Pa p er (10-01)
In this respect, the RSE recognises the importance of History in the school curriculum, in terms of the knowledge and understanding it offers for learners and the key transferable skills the discipline imparts, of objective interpretation of varieties of what is often imperfect evidence, critical thinking, judgement, independence of mind and clarity of thought and expression. It has therefore established a working group that will shortly report on the teaching of History in Scotlands schools. Assessment, Inspection and Qualifications 22 The demise of the centrally prescribed curriculum implies that there will be diversity in provision across the country. The further implications of this for assessment, inspection and qualifications seem not to have been addressed. 23 In relation to assessment, a major challenge being faced by secondary school teachers in particular is the current uncertainty surrounding the structure, content, assessment criteria, modes of assessment (eg internal or external to schools), school stages at which the assessments will take place, and resource implications of the examinations for the new national qualifications from school year 2013-14, and therefore to be taken by pupils who have already embarked on their secondary courses.A well-designed examination structure is necessary to make precise the general statements of intent in a curriculum policy. It is crucial that the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board and SQA provide leadership and continue to work to address this situation. There is a challenge to ensure that the principles of the new system and their practical implementation are communicated to the teaching profession and the wider public..

Additional Information and References

Any enquiries about this submission and others should be addressed to the RSEs Consultations Officer, Mr William Hardie (Email: Responses are published on the RSE website (

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is Scotlands National Academy. It is an independent body with a multidisciplinary fellowship of men and women of international standing which makes it uniquely placed to offer informed, independent comment on matters of national interest. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's National Academy, is Scottish Charity No. SC000470