The media tsunami accompanying our CfE reserch was to be expected. The alarmist picture of CfE presented in some quarters has, as ever, some basis in  the research – but (and this is a big ‘but’) we have seen substantial exaggeration and the inevitable use of the research to pursue political advantage. Indeed there has been some correspondence about this in the media – see The example from the Daily Telegraph cited below appears to be another case in point.

For me, a frustrating aspect of this has been an implication reported in some quarters of the media that the issues in the report apply mainly to the local authority, the Highland Council. I do not believe this to be the case. As I pointed out in a previous post, Highland has been in many ways ahead of the game in developing CfE. The development project that accompanied this research was aptly titled ‘Building upon success’, and we chose to work with Highland because it offered innovative approaches to CfE which could be adopted usefully elsewhere. (note ‘this does not mean, as stated by the Daily Telegraph, that the situation is worse than suggested in the report  – headline: Report may downplay teachers’ worries over curriculum, says author‘. We absolutely refute such inferences, and have never stated anything like this.

Highland has a long tradition of developing active and participative pedagogy. It was at the forefront of AifL after 2002, moving quickly beyond the bog-standard tick-box approaches so common elsewhere (e.g.  AifL techniques). The council developed a purposes-led approach to AifL in particular and pedagogy in general, articulating four key principles – participation; engagement; dialogue; and thinking. This framework for learning, available at, has been widely praised

Highland has also innovated in terms of teacher professional learning and curriculum development. A FLaT project in 2007 developed exemplary approaches to teacher learning communities well before they were adopted in many local authorities (see for example I have been continually impressed with the very many innovative, skilled and dedicated teachers that I have encountered through my work in Highland.

Highland should be congratulated for participating in this much needed research – the point of which was to inform the future development of what most in educational circles agree is a necessary reform to update schooling in Scotland.


2 thoughts on “CfE in Highland Council

  1. Some years ago, I applied for a job in Stirling University’s education department. I like to kid myself that I didn’t get the job because I was too honest, although I suspect that in fact there were other reasons, not the least of which was that another candidate was better suited. When I say I was too honest, what I mean is that when I was asked, “How do you prepare student teachers for the Curriculum for Excellence”, I replied that teachers need to be prepared to deal with whatever curriculum fashion is going to be thrown at them next, not just CfE, but the next fad, and the one after that. Our new teachers – heaven help them, they’ll be at it for almost half a century, too, before someone lets them have a pension – will have to ride the storm of one “curriculum innovation” after another. But maybe that wasn’t the “interview answer”.

    Mark Priestley is therefore absolutely right to say that teachers across the land are “ticking the boxes” to satisfy the needs of CfE. That’s hardly surprising. Assuming that a top-class education is trying to produce students who are intelligent, educated, well-rounded citizens, any idiot can see that the four capacities (what a stupid word) of CfE are self-evidently on the right lines. In turn, it is likely that using a variety of teaching methods will likely achieve the best results, although even that might be open to debate. An inspirational teacher may have very unorthodox methods, and in terms of attainment, there’s even some evidence that teachers who are perceived by their pupils to be hopeless get the best results – the pupils work extra hard to compensate.

    But after the four capacities, then what? Teachers kept being told that CfE was the biggest change in a generation, but in what way? So out came the highly descriptive shiny green folders, so enormous that box-ticking was the only possible response. Now it looks as if exactly the same thing will happen with assessment. Probably guidance, too, when they get round to it.

    So Mike Russell and the Scottish Government should hang their heads in shame in dismissing Priestley’s findings, which are manifestly true, just as they have been for almost every teaching innovation since the beginning of time. The defence that £3.5 million has just been thrown at CfE is risible. North Korea has just offloaded a lot of money on a long-range rocket, but that doesn’t make it cash well spent. If the Scottish Government truly reflected Scottish public opinion on CfE, its official policy would be a Homer Simpson-esque ‘doh’, because, for the most part, wider society – what matters, in other words – hasn’t a clue what CfE is all about. Get real.

    Ironically, Mark Priestley was the head of the interviewing panel that didn’t give me that job at Stirling, but even if he didn’t agree with my views on CfE, I’m sure he understood where I was coming from. In any walk of life, a good professional tries to do what he or she thinks is best for the client/patient/pupil, taking into account personal experience and listening to new ideas, but at the same time paying lip-service to whatever junk administrators require to be completed at the same time.

    And that’s what our future teachers need to learn in initial teacher education.

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