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News: Research shows failures of Curriculum for Excellence, especially for pupils in high deprivation areas

Posted 21 February, 2023 by Nina Joynson

New research from the University of Stirling has found that current outcomes for pupils are contrary to the aims of Curriculum for Excellence

Researchers state that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has led to a "culture of perfomativity", due to continuous pressure on teachers to raise attainment levels. 

The study found that pupils now face a narrowed choice of subjects at assessment level, while performance and outcomes for higher education also highlight weaknesses in the curriculum.

Dr Marina Shapira, Associate Professor in Sociology and the project’s Principal Investigator, said: 

“The research reveals the pressure on teachers to raise attainment, which can lead to decision-making that is contrary to the purposes and principles of CfE.

This narrow focus on what is assessed for National Qualifications can be argued to be counter-educational, limiting young people’s opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes that are essential for successful transitions beyond school and for adult life.”

Studying the curriculum 

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, took place over three years and has been labelled as the most comprehensive study on Scottish secondary school curricular provision to date.

Researchers analysed data from the Scottish Government, and generated new data from surveys, interviews and focus groups involving school leaders, local authorities, teachers, young people and parents.


One of the original purposes of CfE was to broaden the secondary school curriculum.

This new evidence reveals that S4 students are studying fewer subjects now than before it was introduced, and enrolment in non-compulsory subjects such as Modern Languages and Expressive Arts continues to decline. 

Studying fewer National 5 subjects was associated with a lower pass rate on those qualifications, contrary to expectations that concentrating on fewer subjects would lead to higher achievement.

While curriculum narrowing was evidenced across all socio-demographic factors, students studying in areas of high deprivation were most adversely affected. 

The results suggest that pupils at schools with a more limited curriculum may have poorer choices of positive destinations, such as Higher Education after school.

Students in high deprivation areas were also more likely to postpone National 5 qualifications until S5, and Highers until S6 (rather than S4 and S5, respectively).

Click here to read the full report from the University of Stirling

Government ‘must be brave’ in leading education reforms, with focus on rights, early years and meeting all learners’ needs

10 March 2022

Children in Scotland has welcomed the emphasis on children’s rights, the early years and meeting all learners’ needs in Professor Ken Muir’s education reform report, published yesterday.

But the charity also warned that implementation success depends on the Scottish Government being bold and taking forward the recommendations at appropriate speed.

Click here to read Professor Muir’s report

Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy, Projects and Participation, said:

“The Scottish Government could make a significant difference to the education of young people in Scotland if they lead on these recommendations with confidence and bravery.

“We welcome many of the guiding principles and proposals set out in Professor Muir’s report, including:

  • The focus on a child rights approach, with Article 29 of the UNCRC explicitly referred to
  • Increased recognition of the role and value of the early years
  • A review of the roles and purposes of assessment, so that it is not leading learning
  • Learners’ voices, experiences, perspectives and rights being central to decision-making
  • Trusting relationships between children, young people and teachers
  • Greater resourcing and attention placed on ensuring that the needs of individual leaners are met, as set out in Angela Morgan’s review of additional support for learning.

“Some of these core principles closely align with our own project work and evidence.

"The emphasis on trusting relationships, for example, links to our diversity in teaching project with the GTCS and Intercultural Youth Scotland, while focus on individual learners echoes calls made by the Inclusion Ambassadors network.

Click here to find out more about our diversity in teaching project

Click here to find out more about the Inclusion Ambassadors

“We are also encouraged by the Scottish Government’s responses to some of the key report recommendations, including:

  • Their commitment to ensuring that all children, young people and learners are placed at the heart of discussions about the renewed vision (recommendations 1 and 2) and that children’s rights as described by the UNCRC are embedded throughout our education system
  • Their promise that assessments, including examinations, should follow from the purposes of the curriculum, and not be seen to lead them (in response to recommendations 3, 4, 5 on the new qualifications authority with a revised governance structure to include more representation from and accountability to all learners)
  • Their acceptance of the absolute centrality of co-designing education policy, responding to recommendations 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 covering the setting up of a new national agency with a participative approach to governance in all of its work
  • Their pledge to introduce specific proposals to consult with the Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) sector before the summer, in response to recommendations 13, 14, 15, and 16 calling for the new independent Inspectorate to re-engage with the Care Inspectorate to agree a shared inspection framework designed to reduce the burden on ELC
  • Their commitment to act on points 17, 18 and 19, which urge the Scottish Government and other national bodies to collaborate more effectively to ensure that policies align well with each other and with any revised vision for Scottish education, leading, we hope, to better joined-up work across directorates.

“These are welcome public promises and strong foundations for progress but to make a difference for children and young people the Scottish Government must:

  • Be brave and confident, using these principles as an opportunity to lead genuine change to our education system
  • Take forward the recommendations with appropriate speed and depth, ensuring that change is experienced by learners and is not cosmetic
  • Follow the call in our 2021-26 Manifesto that wellbeing should be the central focus of Scottish education and at the heart of changes in vision, values and systems
  • Deliver on calls made by the Inclusion Ambassadors in Angela Morgan’s review of additional support for learning about making meeting all learners' needs a real priority
  • Deliver on the promise of embedding a child rights approach at all levels – in the classroom, in governance, across the wider life of school, and at local authority and national levels.”

Click here to find out more about our 2021-26 Manifesto

Putting Learners at the Centre

Replacement of the SQA and reform of Education Scotland is addressed in Professor Muir's report, published 9/3/22

Click here to read more

2021-26 Manifesto

Find out more about Enquire, the Scottish advice service for additional support for learning

Click here for more

Inclusion Ambassadors

We support a network of young people with additional support for learning needs, ensuring that their views are shared

Click here for more

Diversity in teaching

A current project, in partnership with GTCS and Intercultural Youth Scotland

Click here for more

News, March 2022: Failure to launch

The SQA's exams guidance has been widely criticised

Click here to read
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News: SQA comes under fire for new revision materials

Posted 9 March 2022, by Nina Joynson

There are revived calls for the SQA to be replaced as the authority publishes new exam guidance that many call ‘patronising’ and ‘useless’.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has faced backlash over their new exam guidance, published this week. .

The materials, originally promised in February, were supposed to help students after their continued disruption to learning during the pandemic. However, they have been widely criticised as failing to meet the expectations of pupils, teachers, and politicians

The authority was first mocked on Monday evening when the materials were published a day early by accident. The SQA later issued an apology on Twitter.

Criticism over 'basic' advice

Most of the backlash, however, relates to the content of the resources. When officially published on Tuesday, many took to social media to describe them as giving basic and ‘useless’ advice, and being ‘patronising’ and ‘ridiculous’.

The materials have also been criticised for being unbalanced with some subjects receiving detailed guidance while others included information already well known to students.

Pupils preparing for their Higher Physics and Chemistry exams have been advised that “it’s always a good idea to spell words correctly” while those sitting Advanced Higher History have been told “remember to answer what the question is asking”.

A number of MSPs were vocal in their disapproval. Michael Marra, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education, tweeted:

“I have submitted an Urgent Question today regarding the latest unacceptable shambles from the @SQANews

Pupils and teachers deserve answers from the Government and @S_A_Somerville must take responsibility.

Once more, the SQA shows contempt for those it is meant to serve.”

Post-pandemic support

Exams start next month for pupils studying National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications for the first time since 2019 when formal examinations were cancelled due to COVID-19.

The materials were released with a statement from chief executive Fiona Robertson, describing them as "part of the SQA's commitment to providing a substantial package of additional support" to reduce the pandemic's impact on students' education.

The aim of the resources was to narrow the gap in education over the last year, with students facing differing levels of disruption, and support, due to location, social inequalities and digital access.

Wider education reform

This latest SQA controversy has put the SNP under further pressure to replace the authority.

Last year, independent advisor Ken Muir was commissioned by the Scottish Government to undertake a review of Education Scotland and the SQA’s retirement, drawing on 800 consultation responses from organisations, groups and individuals and 4000 from children and young people.

The results of the review – including recommendations on the future of Scottish qualifications – are expected to be published on Thursday (10 March).

Education reform: "We need to learn from research and practice"

30 November 2021

Children in Scotland has responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Education Reform, calling for a child-rights approach and emphasising the benefits of a child-centred education framework.

We support the observations of the OECD that significant changes and learning have taken place around education policy and research since the Curriculum for Excellence was first formulated, more than two decades ago.

In our submission, we share our belief that this learning needs to be applied to the reform of Scotland’s curriculum structure in order to ensure it remains relevant, fit for purpose and supports positive personal, social, cultural and academic development whilst promoting a rights-based approach.

We also highlight the need for meaningful engagement and participation in decision-making for learners and their families as part of any reform.

Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy, Projects and Participation, said:

“The discussions around education reform are long overdue. We welcome the ongoing review of the Curriculum for Excellence and support calls to update and upgrade the national curriculum structure.

“It is imperative we learn from developments in education policy and research, as well as listen to what today’s young people are telling us about their experiences. This will ensure we have a system that will both develop and nurture the young people of today and help create successful adults of the future.  It must also recognise that success looks different to different people and isn’t always about the ‘high stakes’ exam format.

“In addition, the young people we work with, whether it be the Inclusion Ambassadors, the Education Youth Recovery Panel and our own children and young people’s advisory group, have all consistently raised issues around a lack of clarity, communication and involvement in decisions around education delivery and assessment. This needs to change.

“Children and young people are key stakeholders and deserve to have equal space in this process. Their active and meaningful future engagement in the shape, delivery and assessment of their education will not only ensure we have a system fit for purpose, but will help realise the ambitions of the UNCRC in delivering education that is child-centred, child-friendly and empowering for all."

Within our consultation response, we also call for all decisions around reform to fully consider all children involved within the education system, including those in the early years and children and young people with additional support needs.

The consultation was launched on behalf of Professor Ken Muir, who has been appointed as independent advisor for proposed changes to Scotland’s national education agencies.

Recommendations on reform are expected to be submitted to Ministers in January 2022.

Click here to read our consultation response in full

Education Reform

Find out more about the Scottish Government's consultation on reform

Click to visit the website

Children in Scotland's Manifesto 2021-26

Rights, Early Years and Learning all feature as themes in our manifesto for change

Click to find out more

Professional Teaching Standards review

Our GTCS partnership work produced recommendations from young people

Click to find out more

Inclusion Ambassadors

The young people ensuring those with ASN are heard in education policy and practice discussions

Click to find out more