Val Corry: Schools have top-class vision for future

Mike Russell during a CfE visit to St Augustines. Picture: TSPL
Mike Russell during a CfE visit to St Augustines. Picture: TSPL
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Curriculum for Excellence is an exciting prospect for the teaching profession to grasp, writes Val Corry

In an article here earlier this month, which itself followed articles from a parent and a reply from the education secretary Michael Russell, Carole Ford focused on the problems with Curriculum for Excellence.

Today I offer a different perspective: Curriculum for Excellence is visionary. Through the lens of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), schools are able to look differently at the “what” and “how” of delivery to provide an education that gives young people the values, qualities and skills – as well as the qualifications – they will need to be successful in the competitive and complex 21st-century world.

The decision making about this exciting curriculum is in the hands of the professionals in our schools. CfE gives the teaching profession the mandate to work in a way that is transformational. We need to look to the future.

What do we want for young people in Scotland today? Is it simply a set of qualifications or is it the richness of a forward looking curriculum that is tailored to the needs of the child? Is it designing active learning experiences, including working across and beyond subjects that integrate the fundamentals of health and well-being, literacy, numeracy, ICT, and enterprise?

There is widespread recognition that all need to master literacy and numeracy to be successful, and be able to compete in the world of work. These core skills are the responsibility of every educator. It is using these skills of literacy and numeracy within all contexts of learning that develops mastery. We have a highly-skilled graduate workforce who can deliver these core skills whilst also passing on their subject expertise.

Much has been said about the concept of the broad general education and the apparent dichotomy of “broad and general” and “choice”. There is no conundrum. No teacher should be delivering a “common course” but should be planning how choice can be built in to learning experiences. Choice does not mean elimination of areas of the curriculum. Delaying the selection of subjects until the end of the third year allows young people to continue with deeper learning experiences in all areas of the curriculum. They are then more mature and better equipped to make the important choices that will shape their future.

There continues to be debate about how many subjects should be studied in fourth year. Should the debate not be about how the school is providing a tailored curriculum for each young person through the “senior phase”? The majority of young people will remain in the senior phase for S4, S5 and S6. It is what a young person achieves by the end of this phase that is important. With creativity, for example, six subjects could be chosen in fourth year but more than six qualifications gained through accreditation of other aspects of learning eg ICT, leadership and employability and enterprise: skills highly valued by further and higher education and employers.

There has and continues to be a wealth of information communicated to the education community to allow teachers to develop a curriculum that meets the needs of young people. Methods have been wide-ranging including seminars and the use of websites and social media. Teachers have been listened to and there has been a response to issues raised with direct support for schools, and time and money to support the implementation. As leaders, it is our responsibility to interpret, plan and implement learning within this context of CfE.

This can only be carried out effectively if we develop a professional learning culture in our schools that understands and values CfE, and develops confidence in all aspects of its delivery. Many schools are developing a culture where staff work together to share expertise, provide guidance and support, and constantly challenge each other to be adventurous in delivery of a forward-looking curriculum.

There has been a relentless focus over the last decade on training a highly professional educational workforce, recognising that it is the teacher who makes the biggest difference to a young person’s learning. The Teaching Profession for the 21st Century report began the shift of mindset and the clear set of recommendations in Graham Donaldson’s Teaching Scotland’s Future and the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s new standards for the profession continue this commitment. Developing highly skilled and qualified professionals improves outcomes for all young people.

It is also the responsibility of school leaders to communicate a clear message to parents so that they understand the exciting opportunities that CfE affords. Where this moves to working more closely with parents, either individually or as group, it can lead to shared planning and learning together with clear benefits for learners.

CfE aims “to achieve a transformation in education in Scotland by providing a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum from three to 18. For too long schools have thought of themselves as being in the early years, primary or secondary sectors. These artificial divisions do not help the commitment to a smooth learning journey.

CfE also addresses assessment, which is everyone’s responsibility. Working without the “sector barrier” supports progress in learning. Information about a child and is better able to be shared through teachers working together. There is clear guidance on assessment practice and teachers are already using this.

National performance is monitored in both literacy and numeracy in the broad, general education through the annual Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, which assesses learners’ performance in alternate years at P4, P7 and S2.

Scotland also takes part in the international education survey, PISA. This multifaceted assessment practice gives more intelligent information to support a learner’s next steps. This concept of a three to 18 curriculum with the three sectors moving together to become one community of professionals is vital in supporting the child.

This concept has extended outwards to all professionals involved in the support for children and families. Continuous focus on the health and well-being of the whole child is everyone’s responsibility. To ensure that every child has the opportunities that Curriculum for Excellence offers we must grasp this opportunity with both hands – and we must grasp it now.

• Val Corry is headteacher of Balfron High School