Curriculum for excellence needs urgent reform, author says

Keir Bloomer is chairman of a group of education experts set up by the Reform Scotland think-tank.

Curriculum for excellence needs urgent reform, author says Getty Images

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) needs to be reformed urgently, according to one of its authors.

Keir Bloomer, chairman of a group of education experts set up by the Reform Scotland think-tank, says there are a number of issues with the implementation of CfE, especially in secondary schools.

A report the group sent to the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said “ill-considered” guidance had been added to CfE after it was originally conceived.

Noting Scotland’s decline in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) educational performance ratings, it says: “As Pisa compares mainly developed countries, this strongly suggests that Scottish school education is not internationally competitive at the highest level.”

The report notes that since 2000 Scotland has dropped in the Pisa ratings from a score of 553 for maths to 489, from 526 in reading to 504 and from 522 in science to 490.

The group hopes the OECD will conduct a wide-ranging review of CfE.

Mr Bloomer, a former director of education in Clackmannanshire, said: “The truth is that the schools which perform best at the moment are those which have largely ignored the 20,000 pages of guidance which accompanied the implementation of CfE.

“It is critical that this third OECD review of CfE understands the differences between the curriculum as conceived and the curriculum as implemented, which are stark and consequential.

“Scotland’s educational performance has evidentially been moving in the wrong direction during the tenure of CfE.”

He added: “The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment recorded a substantial decline in maths, reading and science, before Scotland exited the programme.

“Our own Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy has recorded a decline in literacy and numeracy at all levels.

“It is now time we stop pretending that we are doing well and we hope that OECD will, this time, open the bonnet of CfE rather than simply adjudicating on the bodywork.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) ensures children and young people have more options in their education and that their wider achievements and skills are recognised alongside qualifications.

“More young people are achieving at least one Higher or equivalent compared to when CfE was introduced, the number of school leavers who went on to positive destinations such as work, training or further study increased to a record 95% in 2018-19, and 64,274 skills-based qualifications have been awarded this year – up from 37,106 in 2014.

“The breadth of learning delivered by CfE – which helps equip pupils with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century – was reflected in the recent Pisa global competence assessment, where only two countries achieved a higher average score than Scotland.

“It is incorrect to state that Scotland has withdrawn from the Pisa assessments, which are one of a number of sources of data which support our objective of continuous improvement.

“We have committed to the Pisa assessments in 2022 and we look towards the recommendations for the ongoing independent OECD review into CfE to further inform progress.”

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