Confusion to reign in Scottish classrooms over radical reforms

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A NEW school curriculum that aims to reinstate Scotland's reputation as a centre for world-class education is set to be a disaster, the Scottish Government was warned yesterday.

Just three months away from being taught in thousands of classrooms, the Curriculum for Excellence is desperately underfunded and at risk of being lost in a haze of vagueness and ignorance, according to teachers. And, although it has been four years in the making, both parents and teaching staff say they are in the dark about how children's experience of the classroom will change.

Experts say it means a golden opportunity to improve education standards has been lost, as teachers are almost certain to stick to using last year's curriculum.

Teachers and parents' groups are making a last-ditch demand for detailed information on the curriculum, which

is based on four "capacities" all children should aspire to become – successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.

It has been drawn up by civil servants and council and teacher representatives, as well as Scotland's top education experts – but teachers say it is nothing new, as they already work towards its four aims.

The last of seven documents, known as draft outcomes, on how each subject will be taught was published yesterday, on religious and moral education.

However, each brief document has been beset by vague language and lofty idealism rather than specific details.

In addition, teachers' unions are united in saying that, without investment in training and textbooks, the curriculum, due in schools from August, could fail. Some independent schools say they will not implement it in full next year because it is "not ready". They cannot be legally compelled to introduce it as Scotland does not have a statutory curriculum, as in England.

David Eaglesham, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said he doubted the curriculum could live up to its aims without financial input.

"It is almost inevitable to say it is the worst-resourced initiative we have ever had, because there is nothing there in the way of resources," he said.

"It is not that people don't want to do it, but if they don't know what they are doing or have the resources to implement it, it could be disastrous."

He said teachers would keep teaching the current curriculum if they didn't receive detailed guidance on how the new one should be taught. "We now have details on what skills the end product should deliver for pupils, but there is a world of difference between knowing what we are aiming for and knowing how to get there," he said.

He warned that the curriculum could be interpreted differently depending on authorities and individual teachers. "People are running about doing what seems best to them without any degree of co-ordination," he said.

Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "The trouble with the Curriculum for Excellence is people don't really understand what it is about.

"If you ask parents in Craigmillar or Perth what they know about the Curriculum for Excellence, or the difference between formative and summative assessment or a cross-curricular approach, they will say they just want to know if their child is learning to read."

She said demands for more information had fallen on deaf ears. "In our discussions with government officials, we told them we need a leaflet to give to parents detailing what they will see that is different, but that never happened," she said.

David Gray, the headteacher of two prestigious independent schools, Stewart's Melville College and the Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh, told The Scotsman earlier this month his schools would not implement the new curriculum as it was "incomplete and still unclear". He said: "Teachers, on the whole, will continue doing what they have always done with the curriculum that is currently in place, until the new curriculum is ready – whenever that will be."

Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, said it supported the curriculum's aspirations but had concerns on implementation. Ronnie Smith, its general secretary, said: "

The lack of resources and dedicated funding for delivery is an issue of huge concern. If money and resources are not put in place to support the Curriculum for Excellence, the programme will inevitably fail to deliver on its promise."

Bill McGregor, the general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said he agreed with both teachers' unions but believed his members and the teaching profession would not allow it to fail.

Fiona Hyslop, the education secretary, was confident the issues could be overcome and she revealed to The Scotsman that she would be chairing a meeting next month to explain how the curriculum would be taken forward. Teachers' representatives, youth and church groups, and college and university leaders would be among those invited.

She said: "This is a key stage of this important period of reform. Scotland's young people are looking to all of us – those who work within education and also parents, employers and others – to shape an education system that meets their needs in a world that is ever-changing."

More cash will be needed to deliver 18-pupil classes

EDUCATION leaders have warned the Scottish Government it could cost 422 million to meet its smaller class-sizes target.

The SNP Government has pledged to reduce class sizes to 18 pupils in the first three years of primary.

But critics have described the target as unaffordable and unachievable within the time scale of this parliament.

A report by the Association of Directors of Education (Ades) yesterday warned the cash is crucial to pay for the extra teachers and classrooms needed to reach the target. The body is also dismissive of how effectively smaller class sizes would improve pupil attainment.

Murdo Maciver, convener of the Ades resources committee, described it as "misleading" to suggest smaller class sizes as a simple way to better attainment.

He said: "There is no guarantee that more effective learning and teaching will be the result. Indeed, the research findings on the matter are inconsistent."

Ades is still collating information from councils, but revealed statistics from 22 of Scotland's 32 councils indicate that 2,173 extra teachers will be needed at a recurring cost of 62 million for salaries.

In addition, 360 million will be needed to create the extra classrooms required to implement the policy.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which represents councils, also questioned the potential success of the policy. Their written response to the education committee yesterday said: "It is still difficult to say with any certainty whether class-size reduction has long-lasting benefits to educational attainment."

Describing class-size reduction as a tool which "in the right circumstance" could contribute to better educational outcomes, Cosla stressed that the measure is not a "magic-bullet" solution.

However, the body pledged to show progress on the commitment.

Teachers have consistently stressed the educational benefits of smaller classes.

Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, called for a maximum class size of 20 pupils across all ages and stages.

And Brian Cooklin, the president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, warned: "There will be authorities – and we have already seen some – where there will be major difficulties."

MSPs have also been listening to wider concerns about financial support for Scotland's schools.

Defending the budget settlement earlier, Ms Hyslop said: "We gave local government one of the biggest settlements that they have received and made sure there is enough capital to enable school buildings, including classrooms, for class-size reductions."

The Liberal Democrat education spokesman Jeremy Purvis described the SNP's funding allocation to cut class sizes as "indefensible".

In 1998 the Scottish Office announced funding to create a 30-pupil limit in primaries one to three.

Last year the previous administration set 25 as a new limit in primary one classes.

The SNP then promised class sizes of 18 in primary one to primary three when they came to power.

BACKGROUND

BACK in 2004, the Scottish Executive acknowledged that Scotland's children were falling behind in international league tables and promised a major revamp of school education.

With that came initial suggestions to scrap the outdated Standard grade exam – something that has since been announced by the Scottish Government.

A key aim of the Curriculum for Excellence was to move away from pupils being taught to pass tests and towards them being given the skills to articulate concepts and ideals. It was feared children were being educated in a tick-box culture, with multiple-choice exams and memory becoming more important than independent thinking.

Learning and Teaching Scotland, the government body responsible for the curriculum, says it should be implemented from August this year, with the opportunity for teachers to feed into a final version to be rolled out across every school in Scotland from the start of August 2009.

What every parent should know about the new curriculum

SOCIAL SCIENCES

SCOTTISH history will form a key part of social sciences under the new curriculum.

Until the SQA announced a compulsory Scottish element to the Higher exam, it was possible to pass without studying any Scottish history. Fiona Hyslop, the education secretary, said it was crucial for history to move from a succession of dates and dead monarchs to an education on the successes and failures in Scotland's past, so that young people understood where they had come from.

In general, social sciences will be divided under the main headings of people, past events and societies; people and their place and environment; and people in society, the economy and business.

LITERACY AND NUMERACY

FROM 2012, all school-leavers will have to sit literacy and numeracy tests at 16. This has been welcomed as addressing the problem of high numbers of Scottish teenagers being illiterate and innumerate.

In future, internet blogs, text messaging and film will all be regarded as acceptable forms of English, and lessons will attempt to tap into the kind of literature young people are enthusiastic about and already understand. In maths, children as young as six could study algebra, after research found the earlier mathematical theory is introduced, the greater comprehension in later life. Applying maths to real situations, such as using geometry to understand how the pyramids were built, will be used to enthuse pupils.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

IN FUTURE, pupils will be expected to have two hours of physical activity a week. However, Maureen Watt, the schools minister, attracted scorn when she said that could include time spent walking to school. Under the health and wellbeing guidelines, pupils will also be taught how to read food labels. The move is being made in an attempt to tackle the growing obesity crisis. A report last year revealed that Scotland is the second-fattest developed nation in the world.

The Scottish Government hopes that educating children on what constitutes healthy food will help to drive the message home to parents. It is hoped that a change in emphasis will help children to make healthy living choices that will transform the health of future generations.

LANGUAGE

NOT just foreign languages, this subject will in future take in Scotland's own languages. For the first time, curriculum guidance has been created on Gaelic.

And Scots will become more accepted in the classroom. In future, teachers will no longer encourage children to drop words such as "aye" in favour of the "proper" English "yes". Great study of Scots literature will also be encouraged.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

RELIGIOUS and moral education guidance was the last of the subjects to be published by the Scottish Government.

In future, the subject will be expanded into fifth and sixth year. It is hoped the move will help to create more tolerance if youngsters are able to put themselves in the position of people of other faiths and religions. Separate guidance has been created for Catholic schools.

SCIENCE

SCIENCE lessons will become more relevant to children's lives, tapping into their own concerns, from recycling to their gardens. Rather than be asked to name five organisms, children will be asked to pick one and explain how it works within its own ecosystem.

Meanwhile, exams should change in biology, physics and chemistry, where multiple-choice tests have allowed some pupils to be lucky, rather than knowledgeable.

EXPRESSIVE ARTS

IN ART, pupils will be encouraged to develop their creative skills, with a view to it enhancing their adult lives. But the aspirational language does not help teachers to understand how this will be achieved in practice. It suggests suitable media, from traditional painting and sculpture to film, theatre and even jewellery making, but the only real guidance is the lofty aim to help children to become "confident individuals".

Q AND A: Your questions answered on the changes in our schools and what they are likely to mean for Scotland's pupils

What is the Curriculum for Excellence?

It is a whole new approach to school education allowing more flexibility for teachers and aiming to move away from a tick-box mentality, which teaches to the test rather than creating inquisitive minds.

Will I see a change in how my child is taught in primary schools?

Probably not. The cross-curricular emphasis will be easier to implement in primary schools because it is an approach already used there, where one teacher is teaching every subject.

Will my child's experience of secondary school change?

Yes. But it is likely to be imperceptible to pupils brought through the primary system.

More effort will be made to make lessons relevant to pupils' lives, hence the moves to use text messaging and internet blogs in literacy lessons.

The aim is for pupils to find lessons more engaging.

When will pupils make their subject choices at secondary?

Pupils will choose which subjects to specialise in at the end of third year.

Will my child still sit exams?

Yes. Standard grades will be scrapped eventually but will be replaced by new General grades.

Will the remaining exam system stay the same?

No. Highers will stay the gold standard, but Intermediates, which were brought in to bridge the widening gap between Standards and Highers, will also go.

New baccalaureates will be introduced in senior years in science and languages, and will comprise a mix of Highers plus an essay.

Will the Curriculum for Excellence change the way my child's exam papers are marked?

It is certainly true that the new General grade is bound to be created with the principles of the new curriculum in mind.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority, which runs exams, and, therefore, examiners, will probably want to see independent thought rewarded over feats of memory.

Will this affect my child's chance of getting to university?

The aim of the new curriculum is to better prepare children for further learning and the workplace so it should help not hinder advancement.