Judge Curriculum for Excellence on whole senior phase, SQA boss tells MSPs

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Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) chief executive Janet Brown appearing before the Education and Skills Committee (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) should be judged by the “outcome of the senior phase” rather than on concerns about subject choice in S4, according to the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Bosses defended the CfE when they appeared before Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee, saying it offered greater depth of learning as well as more choice.

SQA chief executive Dr Janet Brown revealed research by the examination board found there was “not a smooth pathway from broad general education to the senior phase” after the new curriculum was introduced but a more recent study found “there was obviously a lot of progress that had been made”.

MSPs have been investigating the choice of subjects for pupils in Scotland’s schools and during the committee’s hearing, Liz Smith MSP told the SQA representatives: “The subject choice issue is a major concern.

“Especially if you look at the statistics about the considerable drop off in the numbers taking modern languages – particularly German and French – and some of the STEM (science, technology, English and maths) subjects.

“The real issue for a lot of parents is that while the broad general education may have given them general width and breadth than was possible before with some new subjects when it comes to the core curriculum there is a problem about the subject choice.”

Dr Brown replied: “It is a question of thinking about the outcome of all of education, not just S4.

“It’s about the outcome of the senior phase and is that a better point for children these days than it used to be in the old system?”

Responding to questions about fewer students taking languages, Dr Brown added: “The major drop off in languages probably occurred when they were no longer compulsory.

“We’ve seen a fall off in languages and we are fiercely proud of the fact that we have got some really good language qualifications that we really want students to be learning.

“What we are seeing is continued strength in the Higher so it’s the National 4 and 5 subjects that have declined but people who really want to do languages continue to do the Higher.”

Asking about the 160-hour allocation of teaching recommended for a subject by the SQA, Jenny Gilruth MSP said: “We know that roughly 50% of schools study six subjects in S4, 40% study seven, 10% study eight. There is that variance nationally.”

Dr Gill Stewart, the director of qualifications at SQA, who was also involved in the development of CfE, said: “The whole kind of ethos and philosophy of CfE was about a three-year senior phase building on the broad general education.

“Some of the criticisms of the previous qualifications was the so-called two-term dash to higher and trying to fit higher into a very short time period.

“One of the things Curriculum for Excellence was trying to address was the depth of learning and giving young people more opportunity for depth of learning.”

Dr Brown added: “Our understanding and our expectation is that, in order to cover the course content, for the average child is that you would have to have teaching time of around 160 hours.”

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