It’s a pretty anxious time for any parent with a child in the early years of secondary school in Scotland. The Scottish Government has introduced a new Curriculum, called the Curriculum for Excellence which aims to produce a new generation of responsible citizens, successful learners, confident individuals and effective contributors.
At primary school level, this has been embraced and has really given teachers the opportunity and flexibility to teach key skills in an imaginative way. Anna’s primary education was excellent all the way through, but you could see in the last few years how the Curriculum for Excellence was making a difference. They were given innovative and exciting challenges which delighted them – for example, they’d maybe have to pitch an idea, Dragon’s Den style. A far cry from the olden days when we copied things down from the board (not on slate, we’d moved on to jotters by the time I was at school) and spoke when we were spoken to.
The problem with Curriculum for Excellence comes at secondary school level. My daughter and her friends have to sit the new qualifications in three years’ time. The year above her has to sit them in two years’ time. Only thing is, nobody has much of a clue what these exams will look like.
The SNP’s abrasive Cabinet Secretary for Education is dismissive of criticism. You would expect that a government minister would understand that parents are pretty anxious about the standard of their kids’ education and show a bit of sensitivity to parents’ concerns. That is not Mike Russell’s style. Well, Cabinet Secretary, some of us parents aren’t willing to accept your entirely unsubstantiated platitudes and assurances that it will all be fine. Our kids’ education is a bit too important for that.
Until recently, Christine Jardine was the UK Government’s Scottish Media Adviser, deep in the heart of Downing Street. She’s now returning full time to Scottish politics. Many parents will appreciate this article she wrote on the new Curriculum for Excellence in this week’s Scotland on Sunday. She argues that Scottish education has a bigger problem, too – it is consistently failing children from deprived backgrounds. We may well have free university education up here, but only 11% of students come from a deprived background. That’s not good enough.
While our government at Holyrood has been trying to rescue the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, they have failed those who need our education system most. Social mobility does not appear to be part of their agenda. Yet if they were to look south, they would see a readymade programme to tackle the problem.
The Pupil Premium, which aims to improve educational attainment for disadvantaged children, is a key policy of the Lib Dems in the coalition. Its aim, put simply, is to give head teachers the power to help poorer pupils in the way that works best for them.
Nick Clegg has done something about this south of the border with the introduction of the Pupil Premium. The Scottish Government needs to act, too. You very rarely hear Alex Salmond talk about poverty and social mobility. It’s time he and Mike Russell turned their attention from picking fights with Westminster and on to our kids’ futures.