LABOUR has called for the new “Curriculum for Excellence” model to be put on ice, claiming that teachers will be unable to guarantee that new exams and textbooks will be ready in time.
Former education minister Hugh Henry told the party’s conference in Dundee there was a “compelling case” for delaying the new programme, saying it represented a “gamble” if ministers pressed ahead.
Under Scottish Government plans, pupils now in the second year of secondary school are to be the first cohort to sit the new national exams, which replace Standard Grades and Intermediates. However, amid claims of confusion about implementation, East Renfrewshire Council, one of the country’s top-peforming local authorities, said last month it would be delaying by a year its own preparations.
Henry yesterday read out an e-mail he said he had received from one mother who said teachers at her child’s school could not answer questions about how the new curriculum would work.
Henry added: “If teachers feel they are not ready, if parents have no confidence in the timetable, and if pupils will be adversely affected, then there is a compelling case for delay. That is why Scottish Labour is calling for a delay in Curriculum for Excellence. Schools which are not ready should not be forced to gamble with the future of our children.”
He went on: “[Education secretary] Mike Russell should listen. Listen not to his civil servants and directors who are far removed from the classroom. Listen to what ordinary teachers are saying – they are not ready, the materials are not ready and they are worried the exams will not be ready.”
Criticisms around the new curriculum centre on claims that instructions to staff are too vague, leaving them with no practical idea of how best to teach under the new system. Critics say more time is needed to train teachers for the radically new courses.
Curriculum for Excellence, which will operate from age three to 18 is intended to provide a more open-ended curriculum which encourages staff to draw up most of their own lessons. Supporters say it allows staff to teach modern material relevant to pupils.
Henry called on individual teachers and parents who are worried to speak up if they believed the programme needed to be delayed further.
Attacking Russell’s record, he said the SNP government had “taken the widely praised Curriculum for Excellence and allowed a crisis to build in Scotland’s schools”.
He continued: “We have an arrogant and bull-headed Cabinet secretary for education refusing to listen to teachers and parents about their fears and worries. Mr Russell knows best, Mr Russell is right and Mr Russell won’t listen. But he should listen.”
However, Labour’s call was disputed last night by the National Parent Forum of Scotland, which has sent a letter to ministers on the matter.
In it, chair Iain Ellis declares: “Our view is that delay is actually unworkable – many schools do not deliver Intermediates, and their teachers would have to re-course to deliver these, and then re-course again the following year to deliver Nationals. It makes no sense to us.
“Parents on our parent councils, particularly when they have been presented with the facts, do not wish to delay; headteachers at our schools believe we are well on the way on our Curriculum for Excellence journey; we fail to see any basis for calling for delay.”
The Curriculum for Excellence has been billed as the biggest shake-up of Scottish education for a generation, and is intended to broaden pupils’ learning, give teachers more freedom and make lessons less prescriptive.
Russell said recently that he understood “change can give rise to questions and concerns”, but stressed that the reforms to the education system would be “worth the effort”.
The education secretary spoke on the issue when he visited a school in Clydebank last month, stating then: “I would like parents, pupils and teachers to know that every local authority has committed to the full delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.”
He said a “great deal of help” had been provided as part of the reforms, but vowed: “We will continue to offer full support to those teachers that require it.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Only today, parents through the National Parent Forum of Scotland, have spoken out to say they do not wish to see any delay to Curriculum for Excellence, and see no basis for a delay. We remain on track to deliver Curriculum for Excellence, and Education Scotland have made clear that they are on hand to help and address any concerns that any particular schools may have regarding its ongoing rollout.”
Russell was at an NUS Scotland conference in Irvine yesterday where he turned his attack on Labour, contrasting the Scottish Government’s policy for free education in Scotland with the indication from the Labour Party that it is prepared to support back-door tuition fees.
Labour claimed shortly before last May’s Holyrood election that it would not reintroduce back-door tuition fees in Scottish universities, which the Scottish Government scrapped in 2007. However, in an interview on Friday, Lamont said that Labour would be looking at “refreshing” its education policy and that “might have to mean” a graduate tax.