Excuse Me? Can I Have a New Tail to Wag My Dog?

I’ll probably not make many friends by writing this post but it concerns something that has been burning inside of me for a while. Exacerbated by the increasing ‘doom and gloom’ scare stories over the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, I really feel the need to let this one out. Strap yourself in. Here goes. If you were to ask me what my concerns were over the eventual qualifications system of CfE in the upper stages of school then I would have to say, at this point, I don’t really care. There. I said it. I feel better already.

Alongside the dreary negativity which is churned out whenever the subject is raised in the media – a negativity which does not compare with my experience – there is an almost gleeful exuberance at times when a teacher, a parent, an individual expresses their hatred of the new curriculum. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t perfect. I’m no cock-eyed optimist. There is still a long way to go to really assess its success. I just don’t think it is constructive to constantly snipe at something which is here and here to stay.

As for qualifications, the amount of times I’ve heard teachers say to me that if we teach the children well they will pass any exam we put in front of them suggests that others would agree with me. That concept, however, seems to be slipping away now we have the opportunity, in many ways, to put it into practice. This needs to be a time where, as individuals, we are embedding our practice with outstanding, challenging, creative teaching. We should be developing the wonderful things we already do, enhancing those things with real life experiences and stretching, bar raising tasks.  And, for the most part, I think that is beginning to happen. For example, no English teacher I know sees the Curriculum for Excellence as an exercise in dumbing down, an excuse to avoid the prickly subject of grammar, or proclaiming spelling to be a thing of the past.

However, before you label me as some idealistic lefty who thinks examinations are outdated – you might be right but that is not what I’m saying here – I do think the qualifications will have their place. But if we are to wait until they are embedded before we can be comfortable with change then what does that assume about the profession? That we do indeed teach to the test? That we do indeed believe that passing school exams is the be all and the end all? If that is so I think we may well miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

A teacher said to me the other day, ‘why can’t they just tell us what the exams will be like so we can just get on with it?’ My heart sank.  If we teachers are truly to make the best of the most significant change in curriculum probably in most of our careers then we need to forget about what the examination may become and start to ensure our classrooms are challenging, creative, collaborative spaces which raise the bar for every student in our care; and we need to start now. Our society deserves young people who are successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and an effective contributors. It is our job, our duty, our raison d’etre to ensure that happens.

At this point I can understand that parents and pupils want to know about the exams; schools should always be working closely with them for the best possible outcomes for children. However, as the curriculum is not new any more – it is what we now do every day – my questions is this: do teachers really have to?

4 thoughts on “Excuse Me? Can I Have a New Tail to Wag My Dog?

  1. What worries teachers about the exam results is the response from management. Every year when the STACS come out they get studied to see if they are up to scratch, so to answer your question, yes, teachers do have to. What really worries me is that I am expected to develop and implement this curriculum, which could be fantastic, with no new funding or resources, and no time because I’m still teaching the old one. Give us the tools and we will do the job, without them we’re struggling.

  2. Understand where you’re coming from but I don’t think I was saying that teachers shouldn’t care about the exams overall. What I meant was that we should spend more time working on the curriculum and what we do on class first. The exam will take care of itself. Perhaps English is different. My experience of CfE has not been a negative one so far.

  3. Agreed. CfE is improving teaching and learning in our department. There is an emphasis on building habits of independent learning and on literacy which I don’t think was there before. It is frustrating to continually have discussions which begin, “yes but what grade will they get?” or “but how do we pass on grades to the next teacher?”. Exams are, of course, important but should come after learning. My experience is that everything coming from SQA continues nicely from our planning thus far-very reassuring. Perhaps it is different for us English teachers?

  4. Thanks for your comments. I certainly believe that as a profession we are discussing teaching and learning more than ever and that must be a good thing. Nobody can be naive enough to think that there are no problems but I see and hear of great things happening in schools. Really appreciate your positive response.

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