Curriculum for Excellence? Or Excrement?

My World of Work
“Smile and I’ll give you a job marking Advanced Higher papers” (Photo credit: Engage for Education)

I’m firmly in the latter camp. Teachers at parents’ evenings are routinely told not to discuss the new CfE qualifications because, frankly, they’re a damn mess and schools don’t know what to do with them. I was at a feedback meeting today as a member of the SSTA and heard even more comments about the state of these qualifications than my worst fears could have dredged up.

A post on the STV web page yesterday quoted Minister for Learning (which sounds like something from Harry Potter), Dr Alasdair Allan as saying:

“The Scottish Government, working closely with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland, has provided an unprecedented level of support to help teachers and schools prepare for Curriculum for Excellence and the National Qualifications.

“Curriculum for Excellence has been designed to equip our young people with the skills they need to succeed both in Scotland and in the global workplace, with local authorities having the freedom to shape education to meet the needs of our pupils, whatever their background.”

I would like to say to Dr Allan – you’re talking shit, son. While one could argue that “unprecedented” levels of support were offered in so far as additional in-service days, these were needed because the whole thing is a complete shambles and teachers needed the time (and more) to patch this stupidly leaky chicken-wire ship. The SQA has been as much use as a chocolate fire-guard and Education Scotland has been a similarly cocoa-based teapot.

To sample some of the information I gleaned from other delegates:

  • Experienced teachers are being passed over in favour of inexperienced staff, some only just out of probation, for the creation of course materials. Whether this is cost-saving, or that newer teachers are seen as more “malleable” is anyone’s guess
  • The electronic marking system is a mess, with more errors than human marking. If it’s used, then an increase in inaccurate marking goes hand in hand with the similarly-times introduction of a new appeals system which makes it more difficult and costly to have a paper re-marked.
  • There is a great disparity in how subjects are being treated from authority to authority – it’s a postcode lottery. In one council, Technical Studies were allotted 20 hours to create resources for all three of their subjects. The sciences were given 20 hours each. This, I assume, is the “local authorities having the freedom to shape education” line. Which essentially means that employers won’t value the certificates awarded so much as where the pupil studied for them as it becomes public knowledge which authority pumps more time/funding into that employer’s preferred subjects.
  • National 4 awards aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on if you’re looking for work. One spokesman for a major company stated this, in front of pupils he was in to present to, and said that his company is not the only one with this viewpoint. As it’s assessed completely internally with no external exam or other moderation, it’s deemed worthless.
  • Due to the work commitment required to get through the N4 course, one teacher in admitted that seven of her pupils left school this year with nothing. I believe she meant across the board, not just in her subject but I could be wrong. In previous years, these pupils could have scraped an Int1 or a Foundation. Now? Nothing. National 4 isn’t a graded certification (A, B, C) – it’s pass/fail. Don’t do enough and you get nowt. But as I already said, it’s worth jack all to many employers anyway. Does this example and the one before sound like CfE is going to “equip our young people with the skills they need to succeed”? Sounds like the opposite to me.
  • To become an SQA approved marker in years gone by required a minimum of three years teaching experience in the subject to be marked. This, along with extra marking tuition, allowed you to mark at the bottom rung (i.e. Foundation). With experience, you could mark more advanced papers. Now? Probationers can and do mark anything from Nat5 to Advanced Higher.
  • It seems that Computing Science wasn’t alone in having a dreadful N5 exam paper this year that looks like it was put together by a committee of amateurs who’ve a) never written an exam before and b) didn’t talk to one another before pasting everything together and trying to pass it off as acceptable. I scrawled more red ink over my copy than I do over a poor homework assignment. Chemistry, I believe, used an old Int2 paper for the multiple choice section, or at least huge parts of it – virtually a photocopy.
  • Arrangements for subjects lack any depth in their descriptions. For instance, I have to teach about “processors”. What about them? That they exist? What they do? How they work? What sub-components they have? How they work? I don’t know. When posed with this question, the senior assessor – the person responsible for setting the exam – stated (in front of an audience of approximately 250 Computing teachers) “We’re not teaching facts, we’re teaching Curriculum for Excellence”. So tell me… how do you examine CfE without testing pupil’s ability to recall factual evidence? Isn’t that what an exam is? If you let pupils choose how deeply to study a subject, then how do you know they’re going to discover the facts that are required to pass an exam? It’s a complete crap-shoot. Or just a complete load of crap. Either/or. If that’s the attitude, then teachers are unnecessary. Just give children a photocopy of the arrangements and tell them to go and research all the topics on the internet.

That’s just the foul, mouldy icing on the rotten cake. I have about 40-50 other such notes relating to weaknesses in CfE, problems with its roll-out, failures by the SQA/ES to deal with it and so on.

Dr Allan – simply not good enough. Must try harder. Go to the bottom of the class and show me some real work next time, not something you rushed off on the bus on the way in this morning.

70 years gone by… and we shouldn’t forget

Francs-tireurs and Allied paratroopers reporti...
Francs-tireurs and Allied paratroopers reporting on the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today marks seventy years since the Normandy landings which pretty much swung the Second World War for the Allies. A huge amount of preparation went into the offensive, which was delayed until just he right moment. Technological advances were made, tactics changed and intelligence scrutinised.

But overall, it was the bravery of thousands of men and women who made it possible and made it work. Sickening numbers didn’t make it back. Many didn’t make it as far as the beaches.

Every single one was a hero. Every. Single. One. Whether they made it back or not, they deserve to be thanked, remembered, immortalised.

The Allied soldiers who assaulted the beaches. Men from so  many countries, including many Irish who, if they didn’t surrender their lives, surrendered their citizenship upon their return for daring to take the British side in the conflict.

So often forgotten or vilified for their “capitulation”, the brave men and women in the French Resistance. Without them, so much intelligence necessary to make the assaults would have been impossible to obtain.

Women who maybe didn’t make it to the front line back in those days, but who worked in munitions factories – many losing their lives due to the working conditions. And the many who were every bit as important to the work done at Bletchley Park as their male counterparts, decoding German transmissions.

Take two minutes today and ask yourself – “Could I be that brave? Could I actually imagine the sheer, staggering terror of being floated towards military bombardment in a tin can while seasick? Then fighting for my life afterwards?”

I know I couldn’t.

Thank you. All of you. You will not be forgotten.