The OECD review of CfE, the Muir Review and Education Reform, when Covid matters have allowed, have been the talk of the staffroom, the virtual meeting room and the Twittersphere over the past 18 months. Needless to say, the EIS has been at the forefront of the discussion and debate at every critical stage so far.

OECD Review

Andy Harvey (South Lanarkshire Local Association) represented the EIS on the OECD Review Practitioner Advisory Group, ensuring that the EIS view was conveyed loudly and clearly throughout the course of the OECD’s evidence gathering and deliberations; and the General Secretary and Assistant Secretary Andrea Bradley also engaged directly with the OECD in meetings ahead of the OECD’s final reporting in June of this year.

On publication of Scotland’s CfE: Into the future, in June we welcomed the endorsement of the fundamentals of the EIS position as conveyed to the OECD team which compiled the Review: that class contact time for teachers is too high; that schools require more support to be able to realise the ambitions of CfE; that SNSAs are largely an expensive distraction from the core business of learning, teaching and sound assessment; that there is an obvious disconnect between the BGE and the senior phase; and that assessment overload in the senior phase forces brutal compromises in breadth and depth of learning, and drives over-assessment for learners and excessive workload for teachers. We continue to push on all of these fronts.

On the Scottish Government’s announcement of the scrapping of the SQA, the EIS unreservedly welcomed the opportunity for the creation of a replacement qualifications body with fresh governance arrangements that will ensure its accountability to the teaching profession and its commitment to serving educational rather than political priorities.

Stobart

Two months later, the OECD Stobart Report on senior phase qualifications and assessment was published. This too chimed strongly with the EIS view.

Stobart agreed that the annual presentation of students for qualifications at each rung on the qualifications ladder, rather than by-passing unnecessary assessment, militates against meeting the ambitions of CfE, including with regards to the four capacities.

The Report echoed our view of the need for time, space and support – very much lacking in the implementation of the national qualifications – for the modernisation of senior phase timetables and curriculum design to bring them into the 21st century.

This is not least because of a complete reversal in staying on rates, such that around 90% of students now stay on beyond S4; in the earlier era of O Grades and Highers, whose legacy timetables continue to carry, only 10% or so of pupils stayed on beyond S4.

Yet for the most part, we continue to have curriculum architecture and timetabling arrangements in place that were built for times past.

Stobart, like the EIS given the significantly expanded post-S4 cohort, believes that the time is long overdue for a shift to alternative curriculum architecture and timetabling that will better suit the aims of CfE. In effect, and as the EIS has articulated, support to schools around alternative timetabling models could be the route to achieving the ambitions of breadth, depth and enjoyment of learning, as well as appropriate amounts of formal assessment.

In that vein, Stobart, like the EIS, also questioned the predominance of examinations within Scottish Education, suggesting that alternative models of assessment, featuring less reliance on one-off high stakes assessments should be considered. The EIS has been clear that this is both a wellbeing and an equity issue for students.

Muir Review

“…the empowerment agenda is critical to future progress on strengthening teacher autonomy.”

Since it was set up by the Scottish Government, the EIS has engaged in a range of activity in responding to the Muir Review, from commenting officially on the draft remit and membership of the Expert Panel; to active membership of the Practitioner and Stakeholder Advisory Group by Paula McEwan (Inverclyde) and Assistant Secretary Bradley; to setting up a series of EIS sectoral focus groups who have provided invaluable feedback on a range of key questions within the scope of the Review; to establishing an internal Standing Panel, chaired by Education Convener, Susan Quinn, to work on building the consultation response based on existing EIS policy and comprising members of the Education and Executive Committees, Secondary members of the HT and DHT Network, and a representative of EIS-FELA.

It will come as no surprise that as the leading teacher trade union in Scotland, we have had much to say on the raft of issues, arguably too many, that have been included within the scope of Ken Muir’s Review.

All of the same points as already outlined have been included within the submission to the Muir Review. Many other of our key policy messages have been woven in too.

On the vision of CfE, we have been unequivocal in our endorsement of social justice, equity and equality as underpinning principles of the curriculum. We have been clear that we continue to embrace the stated purpose of the curriculum as captured by the four capacities of CfE.

On trust in teacher judgement as a key tenet of CfE, we stressed that significant headway remains to be made towards realising this element of the CfE vision and that the development of the empowerment agenda is critical to future progress on strengthening teacher autonomy.

On the design intentions of CfE regarding assessment, we commented on the derailment of the move towards more formative assessment and trust in teacher professional judgement by the imposition of SNSAs within the BGE; and the sustained lack of commitment to support schools to create alternative timetabling models for the senior phase, together with an unhealthy weddedness to formal examinations.

On the value of Early Years education as a component of the 3-18 learner journey, we restated our absolute belief in quality Nursery education with a strongly play-based approach, for the benefit of young people’s cognitive, social and emotional development, lasting into adulthood and, crucially, leading to more equitable outcomes for children from the poorest backgrounds. We called again for a reversal of the cuts to the numbers of qualified teachers within the sector and for a statutory minimum entitlement to a teacher to be brought into force.

On resourcing of CfE more widely, we have been clear that while the ambitions of CfE are large, the implementation of the curriculum has coincided with a period of austerity that has seen Education budgets reduce significantly in real terms, impacting on children’s experiences from Early Years to the senior phase, amidst large class sizes, within buildings that often, by their design, inhibit rather than facilitate the creative approaches promised by CfE, all of this compounded by chronic insufficiency of appropriate ASN provision for the growing numbers of young people who require it.

On curriculum and assessment, we highlighted the need for decisive decluttering of the Primary curriculum in addition to radical redesign of senior phase curriculum architecture and raised some caution regarding the creation of a new body with combined responsibility for curriculum and assessment, the risk being that assessment and accountability agendas would wield even more influence over the curriculum than at present.

On the reform of Education Scotland, the EIS called for a solid guarantee of support for schools and teachers in the form of high quality curriculum advice, teaching and learning resources, and professional learning. We argued for a radical rethink of approaches to school self-evaluation, making clear our view that inspection and scrutiny are anachronistic functions whose ethos is misaligned with the empowerment agenda.

On the reform of the SQA, we were crystal clear that the replacement body must be properly attuned to the needs of and fully accountable to, the teaching profession which supports learners to learn and within the senior phase, with governance arrangements set to ensure this. We also underlined that the death knell has been sounded on the unqualified continuation of the kind of high stakes exam-based assessment that has driven the senior phase curriculum for far too long.