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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 Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I will follow on from where the convener of the Education and Skills Committee left off. She is right that it is vital that we look at the curriculum for excellence in the round.

Before coming into this Parliament, I was aware of the issues and anecdotes around curriculum for excellence. When I was first a member of the Education and Skills Committee and we were looking at curriculum for excellence, Ross Greer and I were in the chat room with a group of student teachers. We asked them, “What is the biggest single challenge that you face as student teachers?” We did not know what they were going to say. They said, “It is teaching third years.” We were surprised. When we asked them to explain what that meant, they said that their point was that pupils in that age group are difficult to teach, because they do not see the point of being at school. They have not yet started their qualifications, but they have finished the broad general education. There are other insights, such as the misgivings about the reasons that some schools stick with the two-year, eight-subject model for secondary 3 and 4. Why is there a decline of some subjects? Why are young people having to drop more subjects at an earlier point?

The problem that we have in this debate is that we do not have the data and evidence to provide insight into what is happening—which things are reality and which are just anecdotes. I do not want to criticise curriculum for excellence, for one important reason: we are all invested in it and we all need it to succeed. Above all else, it is the right approach. It is right that we have a curriculum that seeks to give young people the skills that they need in order to learn, rather than filling their heads with facts. That is what they need in order to succeed in the 21st century.

When we undertake major change, such as introducing curriculum for excellence, it is vital that we stop to assess, reflect and—when things are not working correctly—adjust. The reality of this Government’s approach is that there has been a paucity of that analysis, a lack of review and a lack of a baseline set of data, in order to assess whether we are succeeding in what we set out to achieve with the curriculum for excellence.

I thank Jim Scott for his useful contribution. I agree with the Deputy First Minister that we cannot take a single measure and treat it as a verdict on the whole system. I also say to him that he needs to look at all the measures in the round. Some of the measures that Professor Scott raised are matters for concern and need to be addressed. I ask that those things are addressed in the review into the senior phase. I am pleased that the Deputy First Minister provided further detail on what that will entail. Until now, there has been a lack of that detail. Although I am pleased that the OECD is being asked to conduct that review and that it will look at the effectiveness of S4 to S6, I would like to understand when it will report and what other things it will look at. It is not good enough simply to look at the effectiveness of those years.

As I hinted at in my anecdote, there is also the question of the broad general education. It is the flipside of the coin to the senior phase. Breadth is the key value in the Scottish education system, so we must look at the direction of intent and whether breadth is being maintained. We also need to look at qualification design. I would be grateful if the Deputy First Minister could clarify whether those things will be covered.

Unless we measure, we cannot manage. We need to look at the range of measures that we have in our system. The Scottish Government’s record is not good. We have withdrawn from the international mathematics and science study and the progress in international reading literacy study. We have scrapped the Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy. This Government has dismantled our ability to compare ourselves internationally and with ourselves.