I recently heard a senior Education Scotland official discuss Assessment in Curriculum for Excellence. The title was actually ‘Transforming lives through learning’, but don’t let’s give a simple topic a simple title.
He examined profiling, reporting and assessment.
He acknowledged the work done in recognising wider achievement but more was required. Profiling must, he said, be meaningful to the learners themselves but it also requires to inform young people’s selfevaluation process.
There will be no national profiling format. ‘Flexibility’ is the watchword – as in so many areas where the avoidance of responsibility for future failures is high on the agenda but profiling also requires to be ‘manageable’.
There was a lengthy discussion and some highly pertinent questions but anxiety and insecurity were forcibly expressed. That would be fairly representative of many Scottish teachers.
At the end of the session I spoke to two respected colleagues. The first commented that, as ever, we seemed to be flying by the seat of our pants. The second, one of education’s resilient souls, replied that that was what we always did in schools. We were given some broad guidelines on curricular changes (the same had happened with 5-14 and with Higher Still) and teachers applied their professional skills and made them work.
She’s right. That is what will happen with assessment for CfE. It is also to Mike Russell’s and Larry Flanagan’s credit that two more in-service days have been agreed. (Whether two days’ less teaching is good for our students is another matter. Two extra paid days in-service at the end of the summer might have been both more effective and less disruptive.) There is also one further, fundamental change. CfE means that Scotland now has a national curriculum.
The Experiences and Outcomes define the aims of the learning and specify what needs assessing. Hitherto we have had an assessment system, Highers, Standard Grades, etc., which essentially defined and drove the curriculum. At last the curriculum can drive assessment.
These two days and a defined curriculum do not, however, answer the fundamental questions. Firstly, it is no bad thing to define the curriculum in terms of Experiences and Outcomes but that does not mean that the Es and Os of CfE are appropriate, sufficient or rigorous. The biggest problem is not how to assess but definitions of what is to be assessed. The Es and Os are a rag bag.
The second problem, and I guess a few of my older teacher friends may disagree, is this: many teachers are not only unhappy about being given a defined curriculum but are even less happy about being asked to change how they teach. The concept of engaging teaching, of relevant content (as defined by the consumers) and of building learning skills as well as subject knowledge, is anathema to a small but articulate cohort of teachers. They wish to continue doing what they have long been, teaching to the exam.
The third problem, and here I guess Mike Russell and the local authorities will disagree, is timing. When local government cuts are impacting on schools, when teachers’ pay is frozen, when teachers’ pensions are under attack, when ‘faculties’ are being imposed on schools and destroying much of the professional skill which could support CfE, teachers are in little mood to welcome change, even the good bits.
Sorry, Mr Russell, but you can’t expect teacher cooperation when teachers feel as bad as they do. If you insist on freezing council tax and allowing councils to decimate the middle-management structures in schools, the very teachers who will make or break CfE, you are making a misjudgement.
The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 9 April 2012: http://www.holyrood.com/articles/2012/04/09/curriculum-for-consensus/