Fiona Hyslop: New curriculum is building a 'national education service'

SCOTLAND needs an education system that delivers from cradle to grave, from the earliest years, through to lifelong learning. Just as we have a National Health Service, we need a national education service. Curriculum for Excellence is a critical part of this.

Government has set the aims for our education system of creating successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. And we have worked with teachers and educationalists to put meat on those bones with the "Experiences and Outcomes" curriculum guidance – a clear picture of what we expect the education system to deliver.

Teachers have been set the task of delivering real-world learning to develop the real-world skills and knowledge that our pupils need and our economy and employers demand.

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What we have not done and will not do, is tell teachers how to teach. We trust our teachers to know best how to teach.

This generation of parents – my generation of parents – want more for their children than the educational establishment has prescribed over the past two decades. That's why we will resist the clarion calls to be over- prescriptive or to issue top-down diktats.

We believe that teachers must be free to match how they teach to how children learn, creating a rounded education, a breadth of education and an intellectual challenge for all young people.

As part of the new curriculum, in June I announced the way forward for the national qualifications. We are simplifying the system to ensure they reflect and support Curriculum for Excellence.

New "National 4" and "National 5" qualifications are being introduced from 2013-14, to replace Standard Grade and Intermediate, and we are introducing new qualifications in literacy and numeracy to promote these critical skills. Highers are being retained and will be reviewed to ensure that they reflect the new curriculum.

Assessment should support learning and guarantee to wider society the quality and strength of our education and tomorrow I will announce our approach to this critical strand of Curriculum for Excellence.

Developed in partnership with teachers, our strategy will set out assessment practices designed to encourage high-quality learning and teaching and to give more autonomy and professional responsibility to teachers.

It will provide a broader and more challenging measure of attainment and a more rigorous approach to quality assurance. It will be based upon "how much" and "how well" learners have achieved.

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Curriculum for Excellence is the most significant change in Scottish education for a generation and, inevitably, change causes uncertainty, even concern.

That's why, throughout the development of the new curriculum, we have involved everyone with a role in Scotland's education. Where there are concerns, we have listened. More time has been provided to help smooth the introduction of the new qualifications and more information sent to every teacher.

Throughout this process of engagement, what comes across clearly is the commitment of teachers to the new curriculum. They know their job and know how best to do it.

The nation is built on the talents of its people and teachers are responsible for drawing out the talents of our young people. The Scottish Government is committed to freeing our teachers to use their skills to draw out those talents for 21st century society.

• Fiona Hyslop MSP is Cabinet secretary for education