Why has it taken the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) to suggest how the Scottish Government could improve the poor performance in literacy and numeracy across our schools?
Why has it taken First Minister Nichola Sturgeon so long to admit of the problem and to take action? And, arguably most troubling of all for the SNP administration, might the failings here be due in some part to its determination to drive through the controversial Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) programme in the face of criticism?
None of this should detract from the welcome due to the official admission of failure – slow though it has been in coming. The First Minister conceded there were shortcomings and outlined the administration’s response yesterday. The curriculum followed by Scotland’s schools, she said, needs to focus more on literacy and numeracy. The admission that “we need to do better” has been so glaringly obvious for some time that many have despaired of the administration ever facing up to the growing evidence of failure.
Ms Sturgeon went on to talk about “a new national improvement framework”, an “attainment challenge” and an “attainment fund putting significant extra resources into education”. Fine buzzwords. But they mask the searching questions that have repeatedly arisen over the efficacy of the CfE programme. Teachers have long complained about confusion and lack of clarity at the heart of the administration’s flagship policy.
The deeper worry is that there are fundamental flaws in the CfE programme. Might it be that the strategy itself, introduced in 2010 in the face of staunch criticism and questioning by teachers and others across the education sector, is itself a major contributor to the decline in standards? Was the profession ready? There was a wide belief that the overload of information was swamping teachers and had to be cut back – a concern recognised by Education Secretary John Swinney.
Indeed, was CfE ever workable in the first place? That is a deeply concerning possibility – one that should set alarm bells ringing. These questions need to be fully explored and reform undertaken if our teaching in the fundamental areas of reading and writing is to mount a convincing and sustainable programme of improvement.