Analysis: ‘It is impossible to articulate the despair felt in staff rooms’

THIS report into the development of the Curriculum for Excellence in local authorities is a long overdue and extremely welcome piece of work.

This is the first available research into CfE, which is based on the experiences of teachers in schools across Scotland.

Teachers have clearly articulated their enthusiasm for the philosophy of CfE and for the ethos it aims to produce. The problems lie solely with the method of implementation.

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Many of the big ideas reflect the methodology of good classroom teachers and should have been extremely easy to implement.

Unfortunately, the system used to communicate these ideas was badly flawed and lacking in clarity, resulting in increasing confusion and spiralling workload.

Excellent teachers who had developed effective methodology through the use of school or authority-based “methodology groups” found themselves forced to abandon all the excellent material already developed and begin again because “we have to re-write the S1 course to fit CfE”. This proved impossible because there was no real understanding of what CfE was, a situation that has unfortunately changed little in the last five years.

Similar work had been undertaken for years in cross-curricular initiatives that enhanced the current curriculum and added value to departmental work being done by pupils.

Many of these excellent initiatives were abandoned, or overtaken, by CfE cross-curricular “stand alone” initiatives that neither enhanced nor articulated with departmental work.

All of this confusion was avoidable had clear and precise information been available from the outset and the emphasis been on developing excellence rather than wholesale change within an impossible timescale. In a few very fortunate establishments this was avoided because clear and confident leadership allowed staff to determine their own understanding of CfE and work towards that principal in an orderly and inclusive fashion over a number of years. This should have been the template for every school across Scotland, but regrettably was not.

Had the process been allowed to develop organically, with teachers developing the necessary methodology to enhance the curriculum and shift the emphasis from knowledge to skills this would have been a more inclusive and effective policy, retaining essential knowledge and developing the skills necessary to put the knowledge gained to effective use.

It is almost impossible to articulate the despair felt in staff rooms across Scotland.

Teacher workload, contrary to popular perception, is extremely heavy with most teachers working every evening and one full day at weekends just to get by. To add curriculum development to this while demanding that we continue to produce the best possible results for our current pupils working in another system is both irresponsible and untenable.

This pressure comes from employers concerned about the effects of unofficial league tables, parents and predominately teachers themselves who are entirely focused on producing the best possible results for their pupils irrespective of the damage to their health and well-being.

Our major concern is the effect of the problems we anticipate but will work to avoid. CfE is potentially the most important development in Scottish education for generations. It would be a great pity if it were destroyed by early failures caused by ignoring those who have to implement it and who have a vested interest in making it truly excellent.

• Ann Ballinger is general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association