It has been fascinating to watch the recent media coverage of the debates about the increase in paperwork and bureaucratisation within Curriculum for Excellence. First, we saw a piece in Times Educational Supplement, reporting that Ken Muir of Education Scotland was suggesting that CfE has become weighed down by excessive paperwork (http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6334965). Now, Education Secretary Mike Russell has weighed into the debate, saying that CfE should engender “clarity” and that schools, head teachers and councils should not distort the new curriculum with “a smokescreen of bureaucracy and unnecessary paperwork” (see the Scotsman http://tinyurl.com/l5ktbmk ). Accompanying this media coverage of the bureaucratic demands of CfE on teachers, was an interesting letter in the Herald, presumably from a teacher, saying that CfE has also become a relentless paper chase for pupils (http://tinyurl.com/lbw5f93).
I agree wholeheartedly with these observations, and am saddened that such a promising policy is not yet living up to its potential. However, it is unhelpful to blame teachers. Instead we should be asking why we have come to such a situation, and how we might remedy it.
Some of these themes emerged in our research. We found, for example, that many primary teachers clearly perceived curriculum development to consist mainly of assessing, recording and reporting against outcomes. Such views are likely to derive from assessment driven philosophies encouraged under the former 5-14 system, but have clearly been magnified by the trajectory of CfE as a policy. I believe that part of this derives from a fundamental design fault in CfE, highlighted in 2010 by Walter Humes and me. This relates to the structure of CfE, an inherently developmental curriculum framed initially around big ideas and an aspiration to encourage open practice, but then articulated as pre-specified outcomes. Such policy encourages, in my view, a convergent approach to curriculum development, as many schools seek to tick off the outcomes (see http://hdl.handle.net/1893/2110).
This tension has, I believe, been exacerbated by the subsequent development of CfE since the early days. Early documentation demonstrated a sensitivity towards the dangers of assessment driving the curriculum, however more recent developments reveal a shift in emphasis, making clear an expectation that the Es & Os are assessment standards. The 2007 overarching cover paper for the draft Es & Os was explicit that this should not be the case, stating that they ‘are not designed as assessment criteria in their own right’. However, subsequently, this situation has changed, BTC5 (2010) describing them as ‘standards for assessment’. It is difficult, therefore, to see how they are different to the previous 5-14 attainment targets, which came to be used primarily for assessment purposes. The situation has been further exacerbated by the decision in many local authorities to assess against not only each E & O, but to utilise a three level scale within each level: 1] Developing; 2] Consolidating; and 3] Secure. Such developments reveal a continued preoccupation with assessment, recording and reporting, which potentially both increases teacher workload and limits the aspirational scope of CfE to broaden education through school-based innovation. And of course, schools and teachers continue to be subject to accountability systems that value attainment above other measures of success – inspections, local authority audits, comparator league tables, etc.
So, is it surprising that CfE has become bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy? I would welcome response to this question (as comments replying to this post).