Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Scotland

Having written about the Scottish Baccalaureate previously in Leader, it's probably time to revisit our new curriculum, says Ken Cunningham.

At the ASCL conference Dylan Wiliam commented on the title of the new Scottish curriculum, 'A Curriculum for Excellence', ruminating that it was thankfully not a 'Curriculum for Mediocrity'. But that does highlight the difficulty.

The name has been around for a few years now and suffered in the early days from lack of direct involvement of key players and poor communication. That has largely been rectified.

There is now a Management Board, Stakeholders Group, Assessment Group and Association of Directors of Education Implementation Group. School Leaders Scotland is well represented in all of these. The cabinet secretary held (uniquely in my recollection) a seminar for all heads in Scotland and attracted about 250 to 300. Communication is definitely on the up.

In many respects the name is unfortunate as it leaves itself open to the kind of comment by Dylan, echoed by a number of (mainly) academic voices.

It is not, however, really a 'curriculum' for excellence. It is more about 'teaching and learning' for excellence. It recognises the primacy of professional class teachers and their influence on individual young people and the whole school ethos. Naturally, there are curricular issues but teaching and learning is the key, including the range of strategies that we know make up the armoury of the very best educators. The biggest differences, we know, often are not across schools but within them.

Once you've learned to live with the name, the rest starts to fall into place. The cabinet secretary listened to the pleas of the profession and agreed a revised timeline along with three additional training days for staff spread over the next three years. Welcome indeed.

Inevitably more time will still be needed throughout the school year and that will be a major challenge for authorities and heads. But we have a game plan now and it will be important that it is kept carefully under review as all participants begin to understand their own roles in taking the work forward.

By the time this is published, the latest experiences and outcomes for all the subject areas will be out. Every teacher is promised by mid-May a binder with all the materials, which are the result of extensive trialling and scrutiny of early drafts. We hope these will help to set teachers' minds at rest as they see the differences between what they are doing and where we would like them to be eventually.

The biggest challenge will be the balance between individual autonomy and central direction. Perversely the profession has always wanted the benefits of both and the ills of neither. A tall order! If there is a national culture of trust and support within a light touch accountability, this should be achievable.

There will be issues of transferability from school to school, primary to secondary and across authorities - this is after all billed as a 3-18 curriculum - but that should not be insurmountable. Lessons learned, new ideas, sharing resources - all need to be explored over the coming months and years to allay concerns on the ground.

The biggest challenge is going to be around assessment and qualifications. More clarity and understanding is needed around the new literacy and numeracy awards, health and wellbeing, and recognition of wider achievement. Likewise no final decisions have been made around the replacement examinations/ qualifications for Standard Grade/ Intermediates in our fourth year. The 'gold standard' of Higher (and Advanced Higher) remains secure.

The lack of clarity around the areas above is all too clear. But, working together, as it seems all are intent on doing, we should see one of the most significant curricular and teaching reforms of any country. The stakes are high but so are the rewards if we get it right.

Ken Cunningham is general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

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