Curriculum change in Scotland


A special thanks to Jayne Brady, a colleague from UNESCO-IBE based in Geneva (and Aberdeen) for this contribution, recently uploaded to the CoP Curriculum Development eForum. It provides a really useful outline of curriculum change in Scotland, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you! It sits nicely beside my recent paper on Assessment in Scotland.

“Some of the most important characteristics of the CfE reform are: (i) The total curriculum from 3-18 is being revised around four capacities: successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors (ii) The Scottish government has commissioned four national partners – Learning and Teaching Scotland, The Scottish Government, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education and The Scottish Qualifications Authority – to come up with a joint approach (iii) the involvement and ‘engagement’ of the schools in an innovative interactive way, using ICTs. The reform was motivated by a desire for the inclusion of all students, an increase in student motivation, and the need to develop “21st century learners” . It aims (amongst other things) to better address student’s expectations, and reduce the disproportionate importance attached to national examination results. 

In fact, a report by the OECD  in 2007 applauded the Scottish high levels of attainment, the well-designed system of comprehensive schooling, the commitment of stakeholders to high- quality education, and the breadth and depth of reform. However, it also showed serious  achievement gaps between rich and poor. E.g. attainment of the lowest 20 percent is flat , though increases are being seen at the top-end of the spectrum.

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/2/50/39744132.pdf

In the CfE, the aim is to move towards a more formative assessment system. The key idea behind Assessment is for Learning in the CfE is that assessment is used to improve the outcomes of learning and the learning processes. The three principles of the Assessment is for Learning are (1) assessment as a subject of learning (Assessment as learning) for example by together deciding what knowledge should be acquired. (2) assessment in order to learn (Assessment for learning) – for example: pupils reflect and give feedback on the knowledge acquired and carry out a self evaluation. (3) the actual assessment of the knowledge acquired (Assessment of learning).

http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/understandingthecurriculum/whatiscurriculumforexcellence/index.asp

Although the CoE has started to be implement this year, there has been little precise information available on the required assessment (scheduled introduction is in 2013/2014). This is a major cause for concern, as teachers appear to feel they have no idea about the exams that they should be preparing children for. Teachers are calling for more guidance on a definition of standards, relevant evidence, criteria and teaching activites etc.

Aside from more precisions, it will be quite a challenge to integrate the principles of formative assessment into the curriculum, especially at the secondary level where the dominant culture  is summative and teaching is mostly geared towards external testing. In the words of the SLO, “the exams of the Scottish Qualifications Authority have an almost sacred status in the last three years of secondary education”. It is interesting that qualifications in the last three years will remain the same but “reviewed to ensure that they reflect the ideas behind Curriculum for Excellence.” In the long-term, this might risk creating a double standard of qualifications for those who do not make it to the last three years of schooling… but perhaps this concern will be seen to be non-justified as more concrete details are published.

http://www.slo.nl/downloads/2008/Core_20affairs_20Scotland.pdf/download

In any case, it is interesting that no official league tables exist in Scotland, until the higher education level. However, parents and the media have created unofficial lists e.g.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/parentpower/league_tables.php?page=1&t=state_secondary_schools_in_scotland.

While the CfE is an ambitious and exciting proposal, it seems we still have a long way to go in changing mindsets and attitudes around assessment.”

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