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Curriculum for Excellence

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

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Photo of Alison Harris Alison Harris Conservative

The motion is focused on the weaknesses in the delivery of the curriculum for excellence and the real effect that those are having on Scotland’s children. The Parliament has heard that the structure of the CFE has narrowed subject choice in S4, which greatly limits future options for our young people. That has been voiced in evidence to the Parliament many times by stakeholders from across the political spectrum and outwith it. I will focus on the drop in overall attainment and the widening of the attainment gap.

The recent academic paper by Professor Jim Scott, who has contributed to the Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee regularly and thoroughly, is a valuable addition to the debate on Scotland’s education. He notes that the Scottish Government could do a lot more to increase the quality and quantity of the data that we have on attainment. One of the main intentions of the CFE is to close the attainment gap through a number of initiatives. However, as the paper reveals, since those initiatives have come into place, equity has worsened and attainment has fallen. In fact, Professor Scott found that the percentage of pupils leaving school with no qualifications has risen since the implementation of the CFE. For example, in Falkirk, which is in my region, the proportion of children leaving school without any formal qualifications has almost tripled, from 1 per cent in 2012-13 to 2.8 per cent last year.

There are many other findings in Professor Scott’s paper, but one figure that particularly stands out contradicts the Scottish Government, which has claimed that subject choice is not narrowing. Professor Scott noted that roughly half of secondary schools have adopted a six-course model for pupils in S4, whereas the norm was always seven or eight courses. That one factor was responsible for more than a third of the decline in attainment in S4 from 2013 to the current day.

That is concrete evidence of two things: first, that there has been a narrowing of subject choice in S4; and, secondly, that that narrowing has led to significant drops in attainment. The Government’s favourite counter point—that alternative courses are making up for the fall in subject choice—is also addressed in Professor Scott’s publication, which shows that, although there has been a rise of about 15,000 annual alternative qualification passes from 2013 to this year, that has coincided with a fall of nearly 165,000 annual traditional course passes. That is staggering.

The problems in our education system are very real. Despite the SNP’s attempts to stifle the evidence, research such as that by Professor Scott exposes just how bad the situation is.

Attainment is falling, our teachers are overworked and the equity-related attainment gap is not closing. In his paper, Professor Scott said:

“Equity has also suffered, perhaps significantly, as a result of nNQs and CfE.”

We need a Scottish Government that follows through on its promises to prioritise education and get it right for every child. It is unfortunate that we do not have that. Members of the Opposition parties owe it to our teachers and pupils to do everything we can to expose the failures of this Scottish Government until each and every concern is addressed.