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.