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 ****, 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.

6 thoughts on “Curriculum for Excellence? Or Excrement?”

  1. I do. Frequently. However, generally not in front of pupils. For some reason the government don’t seem to want the children who are going through CfE – and their parents – to know how atrocious it is. Can’t think why that would be.

  2. A very good post here. CfE in my mind is a waste of time. The biggest laugh is that it is supposed to be a 3-18 system but universities are slow to realise the ideology because most of it is idiotic.

  3. Universities want educated students, not ones who’ve *experienced* things. The exams were a mess as the whole concept of student-led study where you essentially give them a topic and let them find out what they wish about it makes it impossible to set an exam – after all, how do you know they’re going to locate the correct information? Unless you guide them to it… in which case they’re not really searching independently. It’s self-defeating.

    The SQA also point out that you can’t compare, say, Nat5 grades to Int 2 as the courses are so different. Thing is, parents *will do exactly that*. They’ll look at a school which sat Int2 last year and see how many A’s, B’s and C’s it got. Then they’ll look at another that did Nat5 to compare. They won’t know or care about the different courses. Understandably, all they are interested in are the results… even though they are – indeed – actually incomparable.

  4. We as a family are very worried about this system. My daughter who is a current 5th year is sitting her highers and had sat no exams before. Her school decided not to sit the Nat5s if the child was staying on. The pressure on her is immense. The teachers are constantly putting over to her the importance of passing as she will e left with no qualifications. She is so stressed about it. I can’t believe it has been rolled out without proper consultation. I’m trying to get her revision books online and most are not ready yet. Should be out December or January. Her prelims start beginning December.

  5. Yet another situation the system has failed to prepare for. I teach Computing Science and one of our issues is the sheer volume of practical assessment that has to be done as part of the course, followed by a “pass/fail” assessment around 3/4 of the way through the N5. If a pupil fails this, then they should drop down to N4. However, at that point in the year there is simply not enough time to get them through the internal assessments required.

    Then there’s the “they should learn by exploring themselves” which relates to the ridiculously vague arrangements which tell us that they need to know about, for instance, “processors”… but not what they need to know about the things. Which would be fine if there wasn’t an exam at the end which asks about specific aspects. So we have to waste time letting them explore, then just teach them the materials anyway. All while covering approximately 25% more material than in the past due to the fact that this course is made of of cramming two previously existing courses (Computing and Information Systems) together.

    The fact that your daughter has reached S5 without ever sitting an exam is ridiculous. The idea is that only N5 pupils should progress to Higher, and I’m staggered that a school as a whole decided to go with the internally-assessed (and therefore widely ignored by industry) N4, and just push pupils up to Higher if they opt to stay on and try to more meaningful certification.

    All I can say is that she should get her head down and work hard – and to practice as much as possible. Find a tutor or ask a teacher how close the syllabus for her subjects is to the old Higher and plunder the past papers which you can still obtain for free on the SQA web site. As far as I’m aware, in most cases they’ve not strayed too far in terms of content although the style of question in the N5 exams was definitely different to the Int2/Standard Grades they replace.

    We can relate on the text book and revision guide situation. As a school, we’ve got a choice of books which is as thin as yours and none of them are “proven” as yet.

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