Reform Scotland

Observations on the OECD Report

SCHOOL CURRICULUM LACKS KNOWLEDGE, SAY EXPERTS

The Commission on School Reform, the independent group of education experts set up by the think tank Reform Scotland, today calls for the acquisition of knowledge to take its place alongside the acquisition of skills in Scotland’s school curriculum.

The Commission, which is composed of teachers and other education experts, has published its latest paper – Observations on the OECD Report – in which it makes clear that skills cannot be taught without knowledge, and that skills depend on knowledge to give them purpose and meaning.

The OECD report had commented on the failure of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) to identify the role of knowledge; the Commission’s report goes further by stating that educational disadvantage as a result of poverty can only be rectified if we make the acquisition of knowledge, as a way to acquire cultural capital, central to the curriculum.

In addition to this, and amongst a series of other conclusions, the Commission calls on the Scottish Government to:

  • Radically simplify the implementation of CfE, which currently has 20,000 pages of guidance for teachers
  • Offer minimal national strategic guidance; instead promote extensive local discretion and build school empowerment into legislation
  • Establish a genuinely independent inspectorate

“The OECD report is lengthy but its central point is clear - that CfE is conceptually worthy but poorly implemented. That is primarily down to the ridiculous amount of national implementation guidance, which runs to 20,000 pages, and which is overburdening teachers

“The best way for the government to proceed on this guidance is to get rid of it, and to let schools and teachers implement the framework of CfE at their own discretion.

“The other major change which is required, and on which the OECD also comments, is the role of knowledge. It’s all very well to place a central role for skills in the curriculum, but unless the acquisition of skills sits alongside the acquisition of knowledge, they will have very little value.”

Carole Ford, former headteacher and member of the Commission on School Reform

Going into more detail on the role of knowledge, Carole Ford added:

“Knowledge is far more than the rote-learning that it is often caricatured as being. Knowledge is about ideas – about understanding.

“The purpose of the curriculum should be enabling children to understand the important ideas in each subject. They need to understand the ways in which plants grow. Or how global warming affects crops. Or the roles which Scotland played in the British Empire and in its ending. Or the ways in which policy is made in a democracy. Learning factual examples can help children to develop their understanding. But the purpose is that understanding, not merely the facts.

“The problem with Curriculum for Excellence is that it has no place for the web of concepts that make up each school subject. Curriculum for Excellence is a series of disjointed projects and disconnected mini-facts, sometimes valuable in themselves, but not properly designed to give children access to the big ideas.”