Scottish minister criticises 'hasty' EBacc move


The Scottish education secretary, Mike Russell, has attacked England's exam reforms as "hastily devised" and in marked contrast to the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) changes adopted north of the border.

The new English Baccalaureate, which UK education minister Michael Gove launched last week, was not in the best interests of pupils or teachers and would contribute to an “overly structural and increasingly centralist” system, Mr Russell said.

“It’s up to others to justify what they are doing,” he told delegates at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow when questioned about his views on the EBacc. 

“The vast majority of educators in Scotland will say you want to measure rich attainment, you don’t just measure a single snapshot,” he added.

Mr Gove, who went to school in Scotland, said the qualification would challenge “grade inflation” by cutting the value of coursework, or even abolishing it altogether, and reintroducing more difficult end-of-year exams. 

He cited a GCSE pass rate that has risen every year but one since its introduction in 1988.

However, Mr Russell said such an approach would make English and Scottish schools increasingly divergent.

CfE, the three-to-18 reforms adopted by Scottish pupils over the last few years, were first devised more than 10 years ago. 

They are aimed at bringing more flexibility and relevance into the classroom but detractors have said the aims are confusing.

New Scottish exams, the National 4 and 5, are due to replace Standard and Intermediate qualifications from 2013/14, though some unions have expressed concern over readiness.

“This creative transformation is, I believe, a marked contrast to the hastily devised, overly structural and increasingly centralist approach proposed elsewhere in these islands,” Mr Russell said.

He also defended the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s continued demand for all teachers to be qualified, which is not the case in England.

“A single exam has a place, but there’s lots more than that,” he explained.

“I can’t conceive of a situation where there would be a Scottish consensus around single snapshot exams, just as I can’t conceive of a situation in Scotland where there would be any political consensus to abandon compulsory registration of teachers.”

Mr Russell added: “It’s never been mentioned by the wildest Tory spokespeople.”

Lindsay Paterson, a professor of educational policy at Edinburgh University, said Mr Gove was justified in making coursework more stringent but wrong to consider replacing it entirely with exams.

“Imperfect though they may be, his reforms are certainly not to be dismissed as divisive, nostalgic or irrelevant to Scotland,” he wrote in the Scotsman.


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