Our children’s future at stake

I’m glad that I don’t have a child in secondary school right now.  In fact, I’m hoping that the current furore over Curriculum for Excellence and the shift to National examinations will have become a folklore legend by the time the chicklet arrives at the big school.

But there must be many parents and carers – and young people – out there feeling awfy nervous right now.  Recent chatter suggests that the new system is not ready to go and currently who is to blame resembles a game of pass the parcel.

It started with East Renfrewshire council seeking to delay implementation of the new exams which are due to kick in for current S2 pupils in the next school year.  Then we had the SSTA – which represents only a third of secondary school teachers – doing the studio rounds, talking up the concerns on radio phone-ins.  The Education Secretary, Mike Russell, was then grilled on Good Morning Scotland on the back of a handful of texts and emails purportedly from worried and stressed teachers.

Of course, Labour got in on the act.  In a recent Scottish Parliamentary debate, Hugh Henry, the party’s education spokesperson, suggested that his party was “speaking up for the thousands of teachers and parents across Scotland who are expressing fears and concerns.”  He added, somewhat superfluously, that “we cannot afford to gamble with the future of our children“.

On this he is dead right.

So I do wish he, his party, the teaching unions, the media and the rump of malcontents in the teaching profession wouldn’t try to.  For good measure, I’ll throw in the national education bodies – take your pick from the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland, the national curriculum and inspection body – and local education authorities.  That’s the councils to thee and me.  If we are not ready after eight years of planning and preparing for the final countdown, then what on earth have they been doing?

Everyone is determined to whip up a storm on this one, with hyperbole being scattered around and facts thin on the ground.  Many are working to their own agenda, losing sight of the fact that in the eye of the storm, are children and young people, who frankly deserve better.  As is too often in matters like this, the best interests of children get marginalised.

Far too many news outlets reported the media release issued by the EIS on the back of its “major poll” the other week without bothering to check whether the stats stacked up.  Only 2700 out of a possible 10,000 member teachers in secondary schools bothered to take part in the online poll.  That’s 27% or just over a quarter, which by most standards is a pretty poor response rate.

80% of respondents considered their workload increase to have been very high or high as a result of preparing for the final push in implementing Curriculum for Excellence – the introduction of new exams – but their point is?  Is a high workload increase by itself a bad thing?  Or simply what we might expect at a time of wholesale change in education? And why has the workload increased so greatly in the last year, when this shift has been gradual?

This is where questions should be asked of education authorities.  Directors of education are paid handsomely to plan for and execute education policy and in particular, to turn policy into practice.  If a small number of teachers – and it is a small number as will become clear – are struggling under workload, feeling stressed and unable to cope, then that is a problem.  So what is being done to address it?

Mike Russell has instructed an audit of all secondary schools to test readiness and good on him.  But he shouldn’t have had to – that information should have been being tracked and fed back to the Scottish Government on a regular basis.  Does Education Scotland not know which schools are good to go and which are not?  And if it does not have this information to hand, why not?

The level of panic that has been suggested, even fostered by the media, needs a reality check.  The headline finding from the EIS was that “only five per cent of its members were very confident of being able to deliver the new courses in the next school year”.  This is misleading.  It is not all members but only the ones who took part in the poll.

It is worrying that over 70% are barely confident or not confident at all of being able to do so, but it amounts to only 1890 teachers, an average of 5 per secondary school in Scotland.  Hardly the meltdown being portrayed.  But if there are teachers struggling, what is being done to either support them or show them the door?

After all, our children’s future is at stake here, as everyone keeps reminding us.  And it really is too precious to be risked by a small number of teachers who are unable to make the grade on implementing Curriculum for Excellence.  All our children deserve the same chance at success with this exciting shift in the way learning is planned and taught.  If some teachers cannot or will not, then they should not be allowed to damage the life chances of the children in their care.

Harsh?  Maybe. But whose interests come first here?  And it’s not as if there are not plenty of unemployed newly-trained teachers desperate for a chance to make their mark and their skills to the test.

Where there are failings in the support structures, these should be found and sorted.  If it requires heads to roll in these bodies, then so be it.   If there are teachers who are toiling, let’s sort that too.

But the bellyaching and scaremongering must stop.  This policy has been eight years in the making;  everyone has had plenty of time to get ready;  now is the time for action.

Everyone in Scottish education has a duty and a responsibility to make Curriculum for Excellence work and to ensure that our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed.

34 thoughts on “Our children’s future at stake

  1. *well not everyone, but a majority. in politics.

  2. I hate to say this, but as a student at high school luckily getting to do my highers next year, i find the new education system coming into place to be a lot of rubbish. We haven’t even had it explained to us and we’re meant to get the new highers in 6th year and to be honest you can say its a great political move or a bad political move but at the end of the day its our futures and most of us are trying to escape the C for E because we feel it is badly shaped. it also means now we get one final year to get the old highers and int 2’s in our school and if we don’t get our int 2 first time round, what have we got left to do?

    I feel if everyones going to say whats right for the students in education, they should at least ask for THEIR opinions first, it is THEIR futures after all.

  3. Did you know that the SNP government has not funded one new completed school in 5 years…in the whole of Scotland.

    Our children’s future … nat crocodiles greet loudly….

    • Strange three in D & G at least

    • Absolute deliberate lies: – See
      http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2011/10/24094455

      There would have been many more but for the Labour Party’s PPP, (Private Public Partnerships), and PPI, (Private Public Initiative), funding policies when they were in office. That means our children starting in school now will still be paying for those Labour idiotic public works when their own children go to school. A real disasterous system that not only landed the local authorities with such locked-in repayments an interest payments but saw the private part of those partnerships with forever maintenance contracts. In some cases the private company has gone bust and the local authorities are still paying but getting no maintenance done. That goes for Health Board buldings and other public works all over Scotland.

  4. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding here. First of all CfE hasn’t quite been 8 years in the making as some describe it. Information about the certificated Courses were first introduced in draft form in Nov., 2011. All finalised Outcomes, Assessment Standards and support notes will be issued on the 30th November. This information will be for Courses which should start in August 2013 and be assessed during the year 2013/14. So let’s deal with the facts and consider these.

  5. With the turnover of the Governments refresh scheme that should assist in allowing teachers who find change to difficult to go and get new blood brought up on C of E in training.

    Why not do a little calculation, how many young people can have their education irreperably damaged by a poor teacher in post for forty years.

    For me it is producing an educated young person that matters and teachers are well rewarded to do that so get it done. I don’t hear much public sympathy for that profession nowadays.

  6. If teachers can’t teach until they know what the exam is what a sorry teaching to the test education system we have – C4E is not about the exam – but leave it to an engl

  7. There’s a lot of agendas at work around this issue and I’m just glad it’s not something I have to worry about personally. For better or worse Mike Russell isn’t particularly interested in that stuff. On reflection, I reckon that might be for the better.

    It’d be a double edged sword if used in the Council Elections for party political purposes (by either side) but at least we should be grateful that it doesn’t come with an outsourced IT system to be developed by ATOS and managed by A4e.

  8. Barbarian, you make a fair point that there has been a deal of tinkering with the education system. Perhaps, since change has been occurring anyway, we should have made it bigger: I doubt if many other than the teachers’ unions would maintain Scotland’s education is world-beating any more. Yet, in a peripheral nation where it is expensive to make things, that is what we need.

    Imagine, if you will, that whenever an elected government of any stripe proposed to enact some reforms, in any field, the civil service of the day were to announce that 8 years wasn’t nearly enough time to prepare. Wouldn’t there be screaming about how unfit they were for the purpose and how they should all be sacked? And yet this is exactly what the teachers are doing, and few, apart from Kate or Alex Massie, appear willing to take them to task!

    • Think there is some misunderstanding about the length of development time. Whilst it was first spoken of 8 years some of the course and assessment documentation isn’t yet available and won’t be until potentially weeks before it’s to be taught.

      The fact is that most teachers ARE getting on with the job and getting new work prepared. But alongside that it’s surely not unreasonable to flag up legitimate concerns people have?

      A culture of moaning for the sake of it helps no-one. But neither does meekly going along with something that has numerous flaws without pointing them out. That’s the only way to fix problems after all.

  9. Kate

    The numbers of respondents aren’t an issue – don’t have a MoE calc to hand, but that size of response is pretty robust.

    The area for concern is the self-selecting nature of responses, with almost certainty of over sampling those with strong feelings on the matter. I’m not at all sure how you might normalise for that, so I’d agree with you that as a robust reflection of opinion on the matter, it’s methodologically flawed, therefore unsound from the get go.

  10. Everyone needs to sit round a table and hammer things out. That means all sides being prepared to accept changes and that others have valid points. When polices start to get forced through, or professions refuse to implement government policy, then there is trouble.

    Children’s education has no place for such disagreements.

  11. @bigIrishman

    In what respect have teachers “not delivered”? Mike Russell says CfE has already been a big success because of teachers’ hard work.

    It is surely legitimate to flag up problems before they happen. The fact is that it is ludicrous to give guidance in April (possibly later) for courses which many will start teaching in June.

    In if the government say that won’t happen then they need to realise the extent of different approaches councils across Scotland are taking. The Burd’s Twitter feed today shows these contrasts.

    • According to the EIS they are not ready to deliver. Yes we disagree, and feel that the vast majority of teachers can deliver, but the leadership of the teaching profession has for some time been pushing their luck and this might be an opportunity to take a critical look at the whole educational system.

  12. Has the time not come to take a long hard look at the teaching profession. Friends who work in Schools in not teaching roles are becoming more and more critical to teachers. First of all they were telling us that if they had freedom to teach in their own way they could do better. CfE came along and as we see they dragged their feet, so they are simply not ready for it. Any profession which has failed to produce on this scale should be suffering some kind of sanction.
    The EIS is always claiming that things are too hard, Is this true or are they merely acting as a conservative force at a time when we need the best?.

    • Not only are they acting as a conservative force but also as a Consrervative and Labour Force too. It seems the Private School sector has far too much of a say in this matter but so also do Labour Council led school forces. They should stick to teaching, (those who are able), and get out of the job if they are not. I have spoken with some really good teachers who I know personally. They are all very much enthusiastic for the new system.

  13. Look: the National 4 and 5 courses are still in *draft* form. The exam for Nat 5 isn’t even that and won’t be until next year. The number of people who responded to the survey is irrelevant. 10% said they were ready? How can they be ready for an exam that doesn’t as yet exist? And what, exactly, is the point of sending inspectors out to see if schools are ready for these exams that don’t exist? It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to describe this as a mess. The head that should roll is Mike Russell’s.

    • It is a long time since I was at schoo. My old memory is sharp and it was complete subjects being taught then, to impart knowledge of whole subjects to the students. It was not then a case of attempting to ONLY impart the answers to written questions to get the student through a particular examination. I cannot remember a single school child then who left school unable to read, write or who was innumerate. There was, though, a system of weeding out those with learning problems for special schools. Most were returned to mainstream schools after such tutoring and a few continued in special education. One such lad I knew eventually became a well known musical performer but also authored several books.

  14. Also worth saying that some of the criticisms of the EIS poll are very unfair. I think when around 90% of respondents on a 27% return express concerns that’s more than just serial complainers or rabble rousers.

    Put it this way, if the poll had shown overwhelming support for CfE would Mike Russell have questioned its validity? If 27% of union members isn’t a big sample then we can hopefully stop having to listen to politicians using opinion polls with a few hundred respondents to suggest what millions of people think.

    • Sorry, can’t agree with that.

      Only actually about 20% of EIS members replied about CfE readiness confidence. That equates to about 8% of all secondary teachers. There will be all sorts of response bias in here since it isn’t a random sample, only those who wanted to respond did so, more likely to be those who are unhappy (norm for these sorts of ‘surveys’). Even putting the response bias to one side, 29% said ‘confident’, 23% ‘not confident’ with the remainder choosing for the strange option of ‘barely’ confident’.

      So you end up with 23% of 8% of secondary teachers saying ‘not confident’.

      Not trying to spin this favourably, clearly there is a degree of anxiety regarding CfE readiness, but the results of this survey have been massively overused – by EIS and likes of BBC and so on.

      Agree that some politicians have the regrettable tendency to latch on to polls which are hardly useful. But some properly structured polls can give useful results on a much lower number of responses than the EIS one.

    • Seems you have little knowledge of opinion polls and their methods. You can quite safely reject any poll that uses a non-random selection of the people polled. If is not a real random sample across the entire field it has no legitimacy. I had a laugh at a newspaper poll a week or so ago. It showed that independence voters were vastly anti=independence. First they carried out a poll from a list of people they held records about. After a few polls they obviously knew the political bent of those polled. Next laugh was they polled a large number of English people and a very small number of Scots. However, the poll was only about Scottish Referendum voters intentions. Next they counted all non-yes votes as no votes with on, “don’t knows”, and no, “won’t votes”, taken away. Then they even made on mention of an error factor. So, unless it was a really randon sample across taken from across all teachers then it is not a good poll. On the same day a respected pollster publish their survey that showed the Yes voters in Scotland leading the No voters.

  15. The biggest problem here is that teachers’ main complaint isn’t really about Curriculum for Excellence itself but rather the assessment.

    Whilst it is true that CfE was first conceived years ago the actual detail hasn’t been available for all that time, so it’s slightly misleading talking about the apparent time for preparation.

    The new qualifications and exams are a case in point. Whatever Mike Russell thinks many S2 pupils are about to choose S3 courses and will start preparing for the new Nationals qualifications and exams in the next year. However teachers don’t have final details of what the pupils will be examined on, or the full course content.

    I think that is hugely disorganized and the main crux of secondary teachers’ complaints. The EIS poll doesn’t actually show complaints about workload, merely that it’s gone up. Overall teachers are surely right to be worried that they keeping getting key detail so late in the day. Not least because ultimately pupils are the mess who’ll suffer most from this.

    • How about teachers do their REAL job? Teach the pupil a whole subject, not just to make a guess at the actual examination questions. I’ll give you an example. I had a serious illness and was dropped from the top class when I returned to school. This in the days when, “The Lochgelly”, was liberally swung. In this lower class my history teacher taught by rote with long boreing lists of dates and the tawse. I spent part of one term in that class and returned to the top class next term. There my teacher was born to the job and could make her subject come alive. She could hold the large classes of those days enthralled. I have thus retained a fond interest in the subject to this day. They did not teach to a set of probable questions then, but tried to teach a whole subject.

  16. I think the actions of Labour are actually increasing the fears and doubts of parents and teachers, quite likely undermining the good work already done by schools. It’s worth pointing out that East Ren are in a unique position, having already phased out Standard Grades in favour of Intermediates.

  17. Good article.

    Srangely, was about to ask you and others if you intended doing an article on the EIS survey itself and what it meant – and didn’t.

    Although 2700 ‘responded’, look closely at results and only 2075 of those completed some of the questions. I think that equates to about 85 of all sec’y teachers. And this wasn’t a sample but was self-selecting responses, therefore likely highly biased.

    Even so, the ‘confidents’ > ‘not confidents’. And if the ‘barely confidents’ were included then it shows 77% as being ‘confident’ in some way.

    Not trying to spin all of this, not at all, but to query value of the survey. And then there is how the media, incl BBC, leapt on all of this.

    Can happily do something more – much more – forensic if you or anyone wishes!

  18. I’m the same as you Kate, I have little time for these people who are dragging their heels over this. To be fair, they’re only human, and humans usually shy away from major changes. Add to that the fact that all any of us really wants is an easy life – I’m the first to admit that when a client asks for some change to be made to our software, I’d much rather tell them why we shouldn’t do it than to just pander to their every need.

    However, I’m not tasked with bringing up the next generation. Teachers need to back this. As you’ve said it has been EIGHT years in the making, so they have had plenty of time to get their heads around it. Labour’s bandwagon jumping is so depressingly typical, and so ridiculous when you remember that CfE pre-dates the SNP minority government. This is one of those issues that should have near unanimous backing in the parliament, yet Labour are trying to use it for political point scoring. Is it any wonder Scotland is fed up with them?

    As for parents, if people are so concerned about their child’s education, they can do something about it. As someone with two degrees who walked out of the higher Maths exam in a rage because of not being able to answer one of the questions and thus ruining my chances of getting 100% for the exam (being the big-head I was when it came to maths, just getting an A was not good enough), it’s fair to say I was academically gifted. But I don’t necessarily put this down to genius genes, and it can’t have been solely down to teachers, because other people had the same teachers as me. No, it was because of what I did at home.

    I think my learning to read was as much to do with reading Rupert the Bear annuals with my parents, then Beano and Dandy comics when I was a bit older (I still get the annuals now… Only for my collection, you understand) as it was with what we read in school. My numeracy skills were honed by doing number puzzles in the Quizkids magazines; jigsaws were the root of my spatial maths abilities; Usborne Puzzle Adventures gave me an inquisitive mind; wordsearches and crosswords increased my vocabulary; drawing the Bash Street Kids was what got me good at art; and if it hadn’t been for my parents getting me to do keyboard and, later, saxophone lessons after school, there’s no way I’d have been in a band in my early 20s (especially as my school tried to fob me off with the French Horn rather than give me saxophone or drum lessons – I hope CfE is getting schools to treat music far more seriously).

    On top of all that, my best teacher at primary school was Mr Carter, who got us to do games and competitions based around numbers and words. We did our own versions of Countdown and Blockbusters as well as his own games like Round The World and the Times Table Clock, and usually started the day with “Mental”, which was just 20 quickfire maths questions. All great fun. The best learning comes from when you don’t even realise you’re doing it, which is why often, when asked how I knew something, my answer would be “oh, I read it in the Beano”, and why many football fans have an extensive knowledge of European cities, despite never bothering to memorise facts from an atlas.

    I believe CfE is more geared towards this sort of learning (although I suspect there will be considerably less reading of the Beano than there would be if I was in charge). It may be a bit scary to be moving away from the linear structures of old, but people need to recognise that we need to change with the times. Most importantly, it’s here to stay, so rather than moaning, people need to just get behind it and make sure it works.

    • Doug, not all parents have the ability and sometimes (disappointedly) the motivation to help their children’s education outside of school.

      Both my kids could count and knew their letters at 3 years old, because my parents did the same for me. At the moment, my youngest gets a lot of homework, much more than I did in primary. I can help him with all of this, although I do get him to try and think about problems himself. But not every parent can do this.

      CfE is probably better than before, but the organisation leaves a lot to be desired. But not all teachers are militant anti-SNP types. They are professionals who need to be listened to. How many times do we have a government implementing a policy, but arrogantly ignoring the concerns of the very people who have to implement it (think of Lansley)? Yes, the minister needs to push through a policy, but Mike Russell is bordering on ministerial arrogance at times.

  19. Could it be that this new Curriculum for Excellence is yet another government policy that is tinkering with the education system in the wrong way? Just about every government changes education at some point. I can remember sitting (erm, resitting) my Highers in 1983, and my sister got hit by the change with the O grades a couple of years later.

    Why can’t Government just allow a decent education system to run for years? Get rid of the poor teachers, and sort out poorly managed schools.

    I have one kid in 6th year who is missing this change, although he got hit by a (Labour/Lib Dem) change in primary. My youngest is in P5 and they have a wonderful thing called “Power Sentences”, where they get two words and make a sentence containing both. Sounds great until you realise that they have not been told the meaning of the words; the words themselves would rarely (and sometimes never) be used in the same sentence and the words would not be used in normal conversation by 9/10 year olds. I consider myself very literate, but I struggle with these. The teacher admits that EVERY parent has mentioned how difficult this is. But the school must use this system.

    It is admirable that governments want to ensure a strong education system. But I sometimes wonder who is giving them advice.

    But I fully agree that everyone in the education system need to put petty politics aside and work together. Children should never, ever be used as political pawns.

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