CfE – A path worth treading?

Just before Christmas I tweeted that ‘Sometimes the most difficult and challenging paths are the right ones. They can lead to positive outcomes for all pupils and schools.’ My tweet was partly born out of frustration at more negative comments in TES and elsewhere about CfE, but also to remind myself and others that the CfE journey we all face is a difficult one fraught with individual and systemic challenges.

One critic in TES described CfE as ‘change for change’s sake’. He’s right that CfE is a change, but I think wrong in seeing it as just change for the sake of it. We need to change what we do in schools and education to better meet the needs of all our pupils in a constantly changing world. It was ever so! The 21st century is going to be marked by rapid technological, economic and political change. We would be failing in our responsibilities as educators if we didn’t take account of this and prepare our pupils so that they are able to cope, adapt, thrive and find their place in such a world. A 20th century curriculum and system of delivery is not going to cut it any more!

Ken Robinson and others have argued the case eloquently for why we need to change what we do in schools and how we organise and deliver this. I have always believed that small changes can make big differences our development in schools, but I am coming round to Robinson’s view that what may now be needed in our education systems is ‘revolution not evolution’ We are not there yet but I do believe that the case for why we need to change has been made and what we now need to do is start to make those changes for the benefit of all our pupils. If we keep doing the same, we’ll keep producing the same.

Every developed country in the world has been looking at their education systems to see if they are fit for purpose for the learners of the 21st Century. Where they are seen to be lacking or behind where they need to be, changes are being planned, or are already happening. Scotland could be said to be ahead of many countries through the implementation of change and CfE.

So we are underway with necessary change in Scotland and CfE is the vehicle on which we travel on a journey of systemic and individual development. Change can be difficult and what may be asked of us as individuals and in our schools can be very challenging. Don’t anyone be under the illusion that these challenges are all in the Secondary sector. They aren’t! Primary colleagues face many of the same challenges as Secondary, as well as others that are perhaps particular to the different sectors. In no way do I fail to understand and appreciate the difficulty and complexity of the difficulties faced by teachers headteachers and schools across Scotland, but I am constantly reassured by the professionalism and willingness of colleagues to share, meet and solve these together.

Not least of the challenges that we face is the perceived lack of detailed guidance (or instruction?) from the centre. I remember when 5-14 was  being introduced and lots of teachers complained about it being proscriptive, moaning that it was just passed down from on high and we were left to get on and deliver it! I think it is fantastic that we have been given the professional responsibility to shape and develop the learning opportunities for our pupils ourselves. We have the Es and Os as the starting point for our planning, and yes I know they can be rather vague and general. But, this means we as professionals in our schools, sectors, learning communities, authorities and across Scotland have the opportunity to develop something that is meaningful, which starts from where our pupils are at in their learning, which progresses their learning and understanding, builds on, and deepens, previous learning and experiences, and which facilitates cross-sector working, collaboration and understanding. We are also being given more professional responsibility for developing and incorporating assessment activities and moderation into our planning and learning and teaching practices.  If we achieved all that consistently, what a better experience our pupils would have and we could be confident that they were developing skills, attributes, knowledge and attitudes to succeed in life, and as life-long learners.

So is CfE a path worth treading? It is for me, and I know many colleagues feel the same. That is not to say its a bed of roses, we know its not. But, if we want to really put children, and meeting their needs, at the centre of all that we do, its a very good starting point. It will stand or fall on our commitment as professionals to embrace the opportunities and not just see the difficulties. As I have indicated before, this is a journey not a destination.

George Gilchrist

10 thoughts on “CfE – A path worth treading?

  1. Kerry McCulloch

    Great post. It is really easy to get pulled into the negative thinking which surrounds any change but it is important to consider why people are worried. For years teachers were told what to teach, how to teach it and in what order – CfE steps away from this and people just don’t trust that they won’t be held responsible if they get it ‘wrong’. I don’t think you can blame people for this really when you consider the nature of the press towards the teaching profession at times.
    I do believe in the principle behind CfE but I also understand that it won’t be easy. To make it work we need to behave less like islands . . .

  2. George Gilchrist

    Thanks Kerry. I agree with what you say, but I also think we have to be wary of looking for easy answers. There aren’t any! What works in one school or one group of schools might not work in another school or group. We all start from where we are. What we do have to do is share more of what we are doing and collaborate to develop our thinking and practice. This should help us all develop common understandings and a consistency of approach, as well has helping develop professional dialogue locally and nationally.
    I think we need to have more professional courage and be prepared to stand our ground over what we know and feel to be right. Not easy! Support from Ed Scotland, Government and LAs would be helpful as we seek to educate parents about what we are doing and why. Current announcements to press and parents about when various aspects of CfE, e.g. Profiling, will be in place are not helpful.

    1. Sarah

      Just grateful that I have come across your input to Twitter Facebook and link to here!
      I was feeling very negative about the start of term but reading your words has affirmed my belief in my own vision for the children I work with and in what I have been doing day by day. Hit by flu and ENT infection before hols and that was energy zapping!
      So – thanks! Have a good term!

      1. George Gilchrist

        Thank you so much Sarah. Your comments have lifted me and just reafirmed my belief about the quality of teachers we have in Scotland. We care. Have a great day tomorrow and the rest of the year. Stay true to your vision.

  3. Jaye Richards-Hill

    This post made me think back to four years ago…when I wrote much the same thing, prompted by Dylan Wiliam on my own blog..

    Fast forward to the present, and we are still debating the same issues.. If there is or was a need for a revolution, and I think there is, then unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a necessary groundswell of support for this particular revolution on ACfE, or on any other issues in education.

    You get a revolution when enough people are enthused by an idea…this doesn’t appear to be the case with ACfE. Maybe we need to be looking at why?


    1. George Gilchrist

      Hi Jaye, I had a look at your blog from four years ago and I could see the echos in my own thoughts. I don’t think CfE on its own will produce a revolution in what needs to happen in our schools, but it is a step, or several steps, in the right direction of travel. Putting the children at the centre, seeing them and their education holistically, connecting learning, internally across curricular areas and to the real world, developing pedagogical practice to ensure all are included and engaged at a suitable pace (and based on sound research), increasing the depth of learning, slowing down and not skimming, taking notice of and using technologies to enhance learning, planning for assessment that develops the learning, identifies next steps and includes the pupil voice, reporting on progress in terms of learning progress and development needs, valuing and recognising wider achievement. If we could embrace all of these in a meaningful and consistent way we would be taking huge steps forward in what has gone before and in preparing pupils for the rapidly changing world which they are going to help shape, be successful in and to deal with the problems we are going to leave them. Such improvements can not bring about a revolution on their own. They need the commitment and support of the profession. We also need understanding and foresight from our political leaders and the recognition that teachers, schools and educational professionals are worth listening to. Education is not a business and can not be run on busines lines or models. There are no quick fixes. Resourcing the structural changes that need to take place is necessary, and this is hard to see in the current climate. That is not to say we should shirk from taking all opportunities to keep making the case for the further changes needed. Professionally, I think we need to display all the qualities that we seek to encourage in our pupils, especially resilience in the face of difficulties. One more change we could make now, at minimal cost is stop calling schools ‘schools.’ I have visited Feuerstein’s centre in Israel. It is called a centre ‘For the Enhancement of Learning Potential’, not a bad starter!
      All the best

  4. Graham Dickie

    This is a very good post; timely and necessary. Thank you. There is so much underlying negativity about CfE, as you accurately point out, and much of that reaction seems to be a personal or cultural one. There was a need for change, a need to reflect professionally the new understanding we have of how learning happens and how children have changed.
    I suspect that change in Scottish Education is not circular, “we’ve seen it all before”, but helixical,(spiralling slowly upward, coming close to the past without meeting it) “it is similar, but new and vitally different”.
    But it is an effort to remain positive! As the writer Colin Morris once wrote, “A thousand pinpricks are as debilitating as one bite from a hungry lion in the arena!”
    Thanks for the post.

    1. George Gilchrist

      Thanks for your comments Graham. See my reply to Jaye. CfE and its introduction has been far from easy. We have all faced, and will continue to face, real challenges in embracing the changes necessary. But I really believe the direction of travel with CfE is forward and will remain so, as long as we, the teachers and schools, keep control and shape it as it was originally meant to be. My fear is that people focus on the ‘easy’ ‘measurable’ stuff at the expense of the deeper meaningful, and harder to measure and quantify, changes required.

  5. Graham Dickie

    @ Jaye
    I’ve just reread your comment, and the last point you make is a good one.
    There was something about the way it was released/delivered/ordered/introduced that didn’t sit quite right. There were a lot of gaps, a lot of unanswered questions. We got told at local level just to go and try it, not to wait, then we were told wait till we agree the planning as we don’t want all to be redesigning the wheel. And all of this was without assessment, which comes out in a seemingly unending sequence of booklets, some of which didn’t make sense! Now it feels corporate not organic.
    So, my question is… have we failed to be revolutionaries because of LTS or because of CFE?

  6. Kenny Pieper

    The purpose of is to encourage discussions in the education community, especially during such a time of change. We invite contributions from all areas, not just in Scotland, and welcome views which do not necessarily concur with our own. However, as we pride ourselves in our openness and honesty, we will not approve any comments which are anonymous. We feel that in the spirit of the project this would not be beneficial to a frank and open discussion.

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