The relatively low academic standards achieved by children from poor backgrounds when compared with their richer counterparts was also underlined in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) review. Its 176-page report into Scottish education recommended renaming the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) to reflect the aspiration of closing the attainment gap between the rich and poor. It also effectively endorsed Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for national tests for primary pupils by calling for a standardised assessment framework.
The document argued the bureaucracy associated with CfE should be slashed, saying it had become a “tick box” exercise for many teachers. There was also a call for the policy to be simplified and decentralised to create a “new narrative” for CfE.
The OECD called for a bold approach that would see the curriculum built by “teachers, schools and communities”.
Ms Sturgeon indicated she accepted the findings of the report “Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective”, commissioned by her government.
CfE was implemented by Alex Salmond’s government and has been operating since 2010. The policy, designed to give greater flexibility in how lessons are taught, has seen teachers struggle to cope.
According to the document, CfE had become “something of a misnomer” and suggested that Curriculum for Excellence and Equity would be a more suitable name. The authors also expressed concern at the decline in pupils’ mathematical ability.
It said: “Trends since 2003 in Scotland show a growing proportion of low achievers in maths and a shrinking proportion of higher achievers.”
It quoted the Scottish Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN), which showed a decline in numeracy between 2011 and 2013.
It added: “The achievement gap between the least and most deprived also increased in the SSLN for both numeracy and literacy.”
Academic performance was more encouraging when it came to science and reading in the last decade or so. Although there had been a decline in reading abilities between 2012 and 2014, the SSLN found.
Montserrat Gomendio, deputy director of the OECD directorate for education and skills and one of the authors, said: “Academic performance is above international average for reading and science and around average in maths. But there has been a decline in recent years which should be looked at.”
The report also found “particular challenges” facing secondary schools, highlighting the gap between areas of high and low deprivation in literacy and, especially, numeracy.
Ms Sturgeon attended the launch of the report at Craigmount High School, Edinburgh, with education secretary Angela Constance.
The First Minister said: “I can confirm the Scottish Government broadly endorses all of these recommendations. We are now at a watershed moment for Curriculum for Excellence. The report says we have got a choice. We can either sit back and wait or more accurately hope that the fruits of that reform come along by themselves.
“Alternatively we can chose to be bold and act in a way that will achieve greater equity for all pupils sooner rather than later. I agree wholeheartedly with the review team that we must do the latter.”
Earlier this year, Ms Sturgeon announced a new system of national testing in literacy and numeracy to be introduced to primaries in 2017.