Headteacher says new school curriculum has no 'real relevance'

A HEADTEACHER praised for achieving remarkable success in his school has joined the criticism of the Scottish Government's flagship schools policy – and warned it could be nothing more than a "symbolic gesture".

Dugald Forbes, rector of Kirkcudbright Academy, fears that the Curriculum for Excellence could actually deepen the divide between the most able children and everyone else.

Mr Forbes introduced a revolutionary school structure in Kirkcudbright by putting pupils in for Standard Grades a year early and offering a broad mixture of academic and vocational courses to all students in the upper school – regardless of ability. A report into the changes praised the "staggering and sustained improvements", not just in academic results but also in staying-on rates and pupil confidence.

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At an education conference, Mr Forbes joined the chorus of warnings that the Curriculum for Excellence might not be the answer to improving Scotland's education system.

He said that one of the driving forces for changing the curriculum was that so many pupils were leaving Scottish schools without a single Higher – and a desire to improve things. He added: "If, in the new world of Curriculum for Excellence, only Credit level pupils sit external exams before the end of S4, not only will this problem persist, we will have made deeper divisions between the most able and the rest… and not raised the game at all."

He told the conference – called Raising the Game: Secondary Schooling in Scotland – in Edinburgh: "I do not think that Curriculum for Excellence goes far enough. You cannot claim to be revising a system if some parts are to be protected. The Higher will remain the 'Gold Standard' – why? Whose needs does the Higher serve?"

Mr Forbes said he was not convinced the Curriculum for Excellence, due to be introduced for the new school year in August, would address the needs of the pupils who were more suited to vocational courses or those who learned at a slower pace.

He insisted such pupils were well-served under Kirkcudbright's new system: "These youngsters, their personal background and experience, are valued – and the pupils know it. They are not on some second-class, non-academic, non-examined route.

"They, as much as – and possibly more than – the academic pupils are our future and if they are not awarded equality of status and opportunity, the values enshrined in Curriculum for Excellence remain symbolic gestures with no real or practical relevance to our lives."

Brian Templeton, a member of the Glasgow University team that assessed Kirkcudbright, said that the flexible curriculum project there had shown "that it is possible to raise the achievement of all young people in a dramatic and sustained way".

Speaking at the conference, Michael Kellet, the Scottish Government's deputy director for schools, said the way forward for Scotland was "without doubt a modern curriculum that places excellence at its core".


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DISPUTES over the Curriculum for Excellence have centred on the nature of implementation, lack of resources and vague nature of the documents.

• Keir Bloomer, one of the original architects of the curriculum, last year described it as "the only game in town".

• David Cameron, a former president of the Association of Directors of Education, is helping to rewrite the curriculum to make it clearer.

• Education secretary Michael Russell is confident the curriculum will be a success.

• Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Secondary Teachers' Association, says her members want more information and training.