What does the OECD report tell us about Scotland?

The OECD report on Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been greatly anticipated.

Watching the webinar that accompanied the publication of the report itself was instructive in many ways, but, at the end of the day, I’m not sure much was said that couldn’t have been predicted by any Scottish school teacher.

The good news for the Scottish Government, and for Graeme Logan, the director of learning for Education Scotland was that the distinguished committee of European educationalists all thought that CfE was a great idea – ‘aspirational’ and ‘pioneering’ were just two of the words used to describe it.

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SQA to be scrapped as OECD report warns Scottish teachers spending too much time...
The OECD report has said Scottish teachers are spending too much time in classrooms

Indeed, initially, it looked as if they saw it as a model of good practice, but, alas, it was the practice that was the problem, not the theory.

Because then, in the nicest possible way, they began to outline the problems.

Chief among these, of course, are the difficulties of the ‘Senior Phase’ i.e. the exam years – there was a ‘tension’ between the aspirations of CfE and qualifications, a tension so great that we must await a second report to find out how they think we should deal with those crucial years.

Everybody in Scottish education knows this – a holistic curriculum like CfE, which wants us to be training citizens, contributors and individuals as well as learners, inevitably does not square well with the demands of Higher Physics and university entrance.

The answer now, as it was a decade ago, is to halt CfE after S3 (or preferably S2) and accept that, if academic standards particularly in maths and science aren’t going to drop further, most young people need more focus and depth in the last three or four years of school.

This is something that independent schools in Scotland always recognised – the vast majority of them pay little heed to the precepts of CfE after S2.

This issue was ‘the obstacle to the full rollout of CfE’ and we await, with trepidation, the supposed solution.

Two other issues emerged as central criticisms.

Firstly, it is the complexity of the ‘multi-layered curriculum framework’ – how are teachers supposed to decide which bits to use at any one stage in their planning?

This problem combines with two others, according to our European colleagues, one being the vast volume of documentation teachers in Scotland are expected to plough through and the second being the difficulty of determining who is actually in charge of CfE.

Basically, having set the thing in motion, it has very much been left to teachers and heads to put it into practice.

And this leads to the final issue – teacher workload.

Teachers in Scotland, the report finds, spend much more time in the classroom actually teaching than their colleagues in virtually every country developed country.

How are they supposed to collaborate, think and reflect together as they navigate the theory and practice of CfE if they are constantly helping P2 learn to read better or trying hard to get kids through National 5 Chemistry?

Teachers need more time out of the classroom and that’s the first conclusion from this report that Shirley-Anne Somerville needs to get cracking on.

- Cameron Wyllie, a former headteacher, publishes a blog called A House in Joppa

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