‘Confusion’ over knowledge in Curriculum for Excellence

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Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been marked by a lack of coherence over the status of knowledge as opposed to skills, researchers have found.

Academics from Stirling University found “confusion” in the way official documents defined knowledge as part of the roll-out of CfE. The report, co-authored by Professor Mark Priestley, from the university’s school of education, could be seen as implicitly reinforcing the view from some specialists that subjects are being “dumbed down” or marginalised under the CfE overhaul.

An ambivalent approach to the importance of knowledge contrasts with clear directives on skills such as leadership and problem-solving, and this is potentially “undermining”, the report states.

“These inconsistencies create a subtle but pervasive sense of confusion about the purpose of the curriculum. We suggest that these mixed messages reduce the certainty, or at least the clarity, of expectation that teachers emphasise knowledge.”

Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, said in November that key scientific elements of geography had been “stripped out” of new courses and many local authorities were now using non-specialists to teach geography in combination with other subjects such as modern studies and history.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the implementation of CfE raised challenges but was extremely positive overall.

“This report raises an important issue which requires to be addressed as we move forward. Knowledge is important, including subject knowledge, but it can’t be treated abstractly – it requires to have an application.”

CfE was designed to provide an appropriate balance between knowledge-based learning and the acquisition of skills and it is supported by an assessment system that aims to recognise both academic attainment and broader achievement, he said.

The report, written with academics from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said globalisation was turning education systems such as Scotland’s into drivers of economic development, with more emphasis on the importance of individual pupils and more autonomy for teachers.

A Scottish government spokesman said pupils had more choices and opportunities under the new curriculum. 

They added: “Schools are already making use of the flexibility that CfE offers to provide a much broader range of qualifications, awards and personal development opportunities, in partnership with colleges and employers.”

 


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