Page last updated at 00:25 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

Q&A: Curriculum for Excellence

Radical plans are being rolled out by the Scottish government to change the curriculum in Scotland's schools.

The move has caused controversy within the education sector.

Here, BBC Scotland's education correspondent explains what the Curriculum for Excellence is.

What is the Curriculum for Excellence?

This is the brand name the Scottish government uses to describe a new curriculum being phased into nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Why are they changing it?

There was a widespread feeling among education professionals that:

• Teachers were being asked to teach so much material, pupils were simply skating over the surface of issues.

• Children were too passive in lessons - spending too much time receiving information provided by teachers.

• Lessons were too fragmented. Pupils didn't realise the links between themes in different subjects.

• Pupils weren't being encouraged or rewarded for hands-on activities which developed their character e.g. first aid lessons or Duke of Edinburgh award.

• Pupils in 4th 5th and 6th year of school were spending so much time doing unit tests, prelims, coursework and exams, they were spending too little time actually learning new things.

• Some lessons were out of date in the 21st century and too little use is made of computers.

There was also a widespread feeling among parents and employers that young people are leaving school with a shaky command of reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy.

What is the overall aim?

The government says it wants young people to leave school as - confident individuals; successful learners, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

What changes may happen?

• Teachers will have the freedom to teach fewer subjects, in greater depth and in the style they wish. It won't for example be a case of the history teacher saying "Right it's Thursday. Time to get the worksheet out on the Stone Age."

• Instead of teachers telling children about different climate zones across Europe, they may ask children to go onto the internet and find out for themselves what the temperature and rainfall is in different countries. They will be asked to evaluate whether sources of information are reliable.

• Lessons will be "joined-up." Children may learn project style about the French Revolution - learning in English about the writers who helped stir up feelings of rebellion, in art looking at paintings of the time and in history about events during the revolution.

• Children will receive recognition for hands-on work previously considered outside the formal curriculum such as first aid lessons.

• In theory children will spend less time being assessed, more time learning.

• Pupils will spend more time on computers.

Will these changes really happen?

In primary schools implementation seems to be successful in some schools. The changes aren't wholly revolutionary in primary school where teachers are used to teaching project style.

But reports suggest some teachers feel the government and its agency Learning and Teaching Scotland haven't explained the changes nearly well enough. They commonly maintain most documentation and speeches have been vague.

Another common claim is that they don't have enough training in some of the wider skills needed to teach the new curriculum, notably in using computers extensively in lessons.

There are more concerns among secondary school teachers who through exam grades, are more publicly held to account for pupils' progress.

The secondary headteachers union suggests the curriculum is in theory a good idea but in many ways impractical. It has also claimed it will be difficult to measure children's acquisition of one of the key requirements - confidence.

Critics also question whether literacy and numeracy will really improve if children aren't really assessed on this until secondary and much of the marking will be done by teachers who aren't qualified in these subjects.

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