Ruth Davidson: Time to end the chaos in the classroom.

Curriculum for Excellence needs to be rebalanced to focus on learning, writes Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson in The Scotsman

Few things are more likely to bring a flick of exasperation to the eyes of parents around Scotland than the three words, Curriculum for Excellence. Launched 13 years ago by the then Labour-led Scottish Executive, it won support across the political spectrum at the time and quickly became a key plank of Scotland’s education system. But, today, ask the average parent or teacher to explain succinctly what it means, and things quickly get complicated. For parents trusting schools to educate their children, patience is wearing thin.

When it was launched, the idea was relatively straightforward. In the 21st century, the argument went, society would require a greater focus on skills, and on personal and social responsibility than in the past. Hence, education should no longer be about knowledge in the abstract but about how knowledge is applied. Young people should understand why they were learning just as much as what they were learning.

Ironically for a curriculum all about applying education to the real world, the problem has been translating this philosophy into a workable classroom system.

And no-one has the faintest idea whether the curriculum has actually boosted standards. All we do know, 13 years on, is that Scotland has slipped down the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s league table for attainment and that those nationwide Scottish surveys which the SNP has not yet abolished show a fall in literacy and numeracy standards among children in both primary and early secondary school.

As leader of Scotland’s main opposition party, I take seriously the prospect of running the Scottish Government in three years’ time and there’s simply no way any party with some ambitions could credibly propose such chaos. We must stick to the course. But, crucially, the time is now overdue for a ‘reset’ of the entire programme. The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence has been chaotic. And the emphasis on applying knowledge has, too often, meant core skills in literacy and numeracy have been put to one side. This only entrenches the attainment gap, as it is children from the most deprived backgrounds who most need knowledge in the basics.

Read more about the CfE Ruth Davidson: Time to end the chaos in the classroom.

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Exams, Learning, Primary, Scotland, Secondary and Teaching.


  1. Seán Doyle

    Ruth Davidson sensationally and erroneously criticises Curriculum for Excellence by writing that the underpinning rationale for it is,’…education should no longer be about knowledge in the abstract…’ and then criticizes herself by saying literacy and numeracy downturns are due to ‘…too much emphasis on applying knowledge…’. Well, which is it to be, Ruth?
    Dichotomous arguments on skills and knowledge are futile. Skills and knowledge are equally important. Abstract knowledge is not being replaced but merely better contextualised in creative and relevant settings. There is no evidence that abstract knowledge has been undermined. Ms Davidson inadequately miscomprehends the notion of metacognitive skills development and its importance in creating learners for life for a fast changing world.
    Perhaps the reduction in literacy and numeracy levels are more likely due to the severe cuts from Westminster’s Tory government to local authorities and the Scottish Government, the subsequent closing down of public libraries and the economic hardships ordinary families have faced for the past nine years?
    Much of the knowledge in the old curriculum prior to CfE was obsolete by the time it came to print and was only assessed summatively.
    Creative industries have been the fastest growing sector globally and what industry requires is adaptability from its potential employees. CfE provides a broad knowledge base with opportunity for children to reflect not only on why they are learning what they learn but on how they have learned it! It is this reflective ability that reinforces adaptability to an ever changing world of multimodal literacies.

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