Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Scotland

Delays to the new curriculum in Scotland continue to frustrate school leaders but while they await a decision, debate is turning to new topics, says Ken Cunningham.

Spring has come late to north Britain this year and it's not the only thing that looks like being delayed.

We've been talking for some time up here about the new Curriculum for Excellence and the press has been full of reports of talk of yet another delay. A year or so back, the then Cabinet Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, on the back of calls from teachers, agreed to a one-year delay on implementation of the new curriculum. In fairness at that time there were still some critical documents due on the stocks and it was felt that not enough of the detail was in place to go full steam ahead. With a new Cabinet Secretary, Mike Russell, and all of the five key Building the Curriculum documents out in the public domain, why still the talk of delay?

Nothing is simple and straightforward in the education world as we all well know. This is a hugely ambitious change, joining up as it does the curriculum from three to 18 and challenging all sectors in the process. As we've said before in this column, the change is probably more about learning and teaching than the curriculum as an entity. It recognises what we now all know, if common sense hadn't already told us, that it is the quality of the teacher and the learning process in the classroom that is paramount. That being the case this is not then a one-off, 'switch on' kind of revolution - a word used a bit too often in this context - but more a genuine evolution.

In the welter of argument and counter-argument it can get quite confusing. Not enough assessment; too much assessment. Far too flexible and open; more direction and support. Qualifications; assessment for learning. Subject boundaries; cross-curricular themes.

Of course, the true picture is usually somewhere in the middle. It certainly is about recognising that the existing curriculum has been far too prescriptive and less responsive to change; that teachers should be allowed to be professionals in the way that McCrone (as in the report A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century) envisaged; that there is a need to 'future-proof' the curriculum (as far as anyone can); that the true place of assessment in the system should be acknowledged; that literacy and numeracy are essential skills to be delivered in all classrooms at all times by all teachers; and so on.

As always, especially for secondary staff, it gets down to the perceived important outcomes - qualifications. I fear staff will only finally be reassured on that front when the new qualifications of National 4 and National 5 (replacements for Intermediate and Standard grades) are actually up and running. Critical decisions will be taken over the next month as to whether another delay is on the cards.

I actually think we do ourselves down most of the time. Much of what is good about a Curriculum for Excellence is already on its way across all the sectors. With careful planning we should be able to keep delivering to schedule.

Of course, all of this is against the backdrop of financial stringency and not a little posturing on the political front with the UK elections this year and Holyrood next.

Not given to navel-gazing on governance up here, content as we are with the status quo, we have suddenly got a predilection for discussing a whole range of new governance models. That finance issue, the Concordat and the growing need for more autonomy for headteachers have encouraged a new debate. There are even more interesting times ahead.

Ken Cunningham is general secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

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