Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

A Curriculum for Mediocrity #CfE #sqa #educationscotland #nationaltests @johnswinney


Scotland’s curriculum, “A Curriculum for Excellence” has a lot of strengths. Individuals can be catered for and pupils’ interests and achievements are acknowledged. As the first batch of CfE pupils drop off the end, there are a few glaring black holes that I hope will be dealt with over the next few sessions.

I am glad that John Swinney has taken over Scottish Education. Hopefully he will be able to begin to nudge the juggernaut of A Curriculum for Excellence into some kind of a useful harbour/positive destination. I do hope so. The current cohort are not being particularly  well served, in ‘general’.

That’s one of the problems. The “Broad General Education”, the “BGE” is, by its very ‘general’ nature, shallow. It is broad; it is general; it is not focused; it is not deep; it is not excellent. The low bar of equality smashes itself into the face of any approaching rigour or sophistication.

The good news is that the generality produced as a result of the farcical number of Experiences and Outcomes should be somewhat lessened by the introduction of the Significant Aspects of Learning. Hopefully this will give a fairer and more useful weighting between the various elements of a child’s education.

Another failing is the chasm between Level 4 and National 4. The senior phase does not dovetail with the end of the BGE. National 4 qualifications are challenging to achieve, but worthless. There is no exam to calibrate and therefore celebrate the achievements of these pupils.

In the subject area of English, for example, there is the sneaking suspicion that a National 4 candidate who struggles with basic literacy (which generally, National 4 candidates do) might be better off sitting National 5 where, ironically, one does not have to be terribly literate. If my child was sitting Nat 4 English, I would rather they sat and failed National 5, rather than fritter away a year comparing leaflets about Aberdeen, listening to random clips from the internet and producing the most arbitrary of all assessments ever: the “Added Value Unit”…

At National 5, there are problems with equality. There is the hope that pupils from all backgrounds will be able to have a level playing field. The inclusion of “assignments” and “portfolios” mean that there is no chance of equality for those pupils who are not supported at home.

For example, many subjects have work to submit to the SQA worth a significant percentage of the grade. If you are a literate, on-the-ball, aspirational parent, you will burst a gut to make sure that what your child submits is 100% correct. Even if you have to write the thing yourself…

No matter how robust a school’s processes are, it is impossible to ensure that such essays and projects are free from interference from parents and tutors. Surely it is fairer to have exam elements that allow a fair opportunity for everyone to show what they can actually do, rather then type up a mish-mash of what their family and friends can cobble together over the course of a year? If a child has 30% of the course in the bag before the exam – all they have to do on the day is get 20/70! How is that fair for the children who produced their own work under their own steam?

I am in two minds about the reintroduction of national tests. What annoys me is when people say “it is not a return to the high-stakes national testing of the past”. The old National Tests were not “high-stakes”. They were, well, really quite “CfE”. When a teacher was sure a child had reached a level, the child was given a test to confirm the teacher judgement. Now the teacher just has to come up with a teacher judgement based on everything-that’s-happened-up-til-now. A return to old-style National Tests would be fine, I think.

The new style, I believe will be Standardised, blanket tests? In this way you might get a poor wee soul being given a test that they have no hope of accessing. You may also get high-flyers who can’t show what they can do as it is too easy. Again, the old style tests may be worth dusting off. But I reckon they are well past the shredder by now.

So, all the best with it, Mr Swinney. Please let councils generate tax so we can get school librarians back again. Please get the SQA to assess pupils’ abilities on the day rather than have them polish mince for a year then hand it in. Please give N4 pupils an exam so that they can get a grade.

That would be great.


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4 thoughts on “A Curriculum for Mediocrity #CfE #sqa #educationscotland #nationaltests @johnswinney

  1. Education is tricky, here in the states we have bug fights over it, from testing to public versus private and who gets the money to what “kind” of science to put into textbooks, it is crazy. I hope you have a much better experience in the coming year Sandra :D.

  2. I have been away from Scotland for too long it seems – what you are writing about here bears no resemblance at all to the education I received (and indeed taught for 6 years before moving away!). Scotland used to have a reputation (a good one, I thought) for a broad, sound education but it sounds like things have moved away from that which is a shame. I know things moved on from O Grades and Highers, and nothing in between, but we all knew where we were then as opposed to now, where it seems very confusing!

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