CfE: No, we aren’t doing it already
Yet some significant difficulties remain. The most important of these is that the scope, ambition and long-tern nature of the programme are scarcely understood.
Curriculum for Excellence is supposed to be the biggest change in Scottish education for a generation. Yet, many teachers – including many headteachers and deputes – would struggle to give a clear definition of what exactly that change is to entail.
In many ways the problem lies in the name. Curriculum for Excellence is not a curriculum in the traditional sense of being a catalogue of content. It is not, therefore, similar to 5 to 14. Although it will certainly involve changes in content, it is much more complex.
Curriculum for Excellence aims to develop an education service that will equip young people to thrive in the 21st century by
· emphasising understanding and capability as well as knowledge
· promoting study in depth
· giving an understanding of the main academic disciplines while showing that all learning is connected
· encouraging forms of learning that are engaging and promote mental activity
· engaging young people as active agents in all parts of the learning process.
The key is deep learning, learning that brings understanding and can be turned to practical effect. Achieving this requires improved pedagogy, intellectual ambition and enhanced motivation. Curriculum for Excellence is, therefore, a multi-faceted programme addressing simultaneously almost every aspect of the educational process – organisation, teaching and learning, assessment and content.
Why are these far reaching changes needed at this time?
This question take us back to the origins of Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland’s National Debate on Education in 2002. 25,000 people took part in the debate and, of course, opinions varied widely. However, very large numbers of people took the view that Scotland’s schools were doing a good job. Nevertheless, education had to change because the world was changing around it and young people had to be prepared for a future that couldn’t be predicted but was certain to impose ever-increasing demands.
Viewed in this light, Curriculum for Excellence is about equipping young people to earn a living in circumstances where the skills required are becoming steadily more sophisticated. It is also about helping them to lead fulfilled lives in a world of increasing diversity where nothing – not even matters of belief and custom – appears to be stable. These are ambitious objectives indeed.
It is worth bearing this in mind if you are ever tempted to say, “We are doing it all already”. If one thing is certain, it is that no school in the country even approaches meeting the long-term aims of Curriculum for Excellence. Many have made a good start – and deserve to be congratulated. However, the long-term vision needs to be constantly before our eyes if we are to tackle the formidable difficulties ahead.
Some parts of the programme are familiar and substantial progress should be fairly straightforward. There is no doubt that the basic skills of literacy and numeracy are a prerequisite for success in every other aspect of education. Several local authorities and a good many individual schools have already reduced the number of children failing at this stage to a tiny percentage.
There are other aspects that relate to traditional strengths of the primary sector. Interdisciplinary work is an obvious example. So too is variety and imagination in approaches to learning.
However, there are some areas of the programme where many schools have much good practice to show but, overall, more progress is required. Is active learning a feature of the whole school as opposed to merely the early years? Does the relationship of learner to teacher move on sufficiently towards independence? Above all is the curriculum sufficiently intellectually ambitious? Does it promote the systematic acquisition of skills? Does it emphasise higher order skills in particular?
All over the world, governments are reviewing and modernising school curricula. There is a widely shared view that education has fallen behind and no longer does enough to prepare young people for contemporary life. Nobody has yet found the answers. Perhaps, with Curriculum for Excellence, we are at least embarking on the right road.