Comment: Curriculum on Excellence faces exam test

Picture: Robert Perry
Picture: Robert Perry
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WHEN I took over as education correspondent at The Scotsman in the summer of 2011, a teacher friend told me to swot up on Curriculum on Excellence.

As I prepare to move into another role for this newspaper nearly three years on, I’ve heard a lot about CfE, both good and bad. But despite now knowing more about the Scottish education system than is perhaps healthy, I still don’t really know what Curriculum for Excellence is.

Speak to the critics, and it’s an overly bureaucratic dog’s dinner which will leave our children struggling to read and write.

Supporters, on the other hand, claim it will help re-invigorate our education system by handing more power to teachers to shape lessons and prepare children for a life beyond the classroom.

As is often the case in the media, much of the debate is coloured by those at the extremes who tend to shout the loudest.

The majority of teachers, parents and pupils have simply knuckled down and got on with it, leaving it to journalists and educationalists to stroke our chins about the philosophy which now underpins our school system.

The one thing that is clear to me, however, is that whoever named this new system should have been given double detention. Not only is CfE not strictly a curriculum – it’s more a way of thinking – but the use of the word “excellence” meant it was on a hiding to nothing from the very start.

And despite supposedly being a new and creative force, it remains burdened by the sort of impenetrable jargon which has long given the teaching profession a bad name.

Now more than ten years in the making, the “curriculum’s” biggest challenge to date is just a few short weeks away.

Around 50,000 S4 pupils will sit the Nationals, the new qualifications which have replaced Standard Grades as part of the implementation of CfE.

All going well, those same students will then sit a revamped version of the Higher when they move on to S5.

Last week the departure of Roderic Gillespie, a senior figure at the Scottish Qualifications Authority – who is leaving his post for a job overseas in a few months’ time – was seized upon by those who seem to be almost willing the system to fail.

The exam debacle of 2000, where thousands of teenagers were given wrong or incomplete results, remains fresh in the minds of those in education.

For the sake of all the young people sitting their Nationals, we can only hope that there will be no repeat of that incredible meltdown this year.

I’d like to sign off as education correspondent by wishing them, and Curriculum for Excellence, all the very best in the weeks ahead.