SNP must scotch its disastrous curriculum

SNP must scotch its disastrous curriculum

Scotland’s education system was once envied across the world and countries scrambled to copy it.

But now, under the SNP’s rule, it has become a scandal which the rulers north of the border are attempting to cover up.

The progressive approach taken by the 2010 ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ is to blame.

Trendy methods excited university experts, teachers’ unions and academics who influenced policy.

These methods have failed. Children have suffered and so will the country.

Already Scotland is sliding down the PISA rankings in numeracy and literacy.

And shamefully, its leaders are refusing to recognise the international educational bodies and won’t take part in testing.

They are trying to cover up their failures.

It is even more scandalous because the SNP’s leaders watched as England tried the same thing and saw it fail.

The Conservative Party in the late 1980s was sold a ‘pup’. It endorsed progressive teaching approaches because the education academics in the universities and the teacher training establishments said it was for the best.

It wasn’t.

It was never fit for purpose.

I was once asked if I understood the maths curriculum for primary schools and I said I honestly didn’t.

It made no sense to me at all. It was vague, disorganised, confusing and offered a few practical examples.

It seemed more like a philosophical treatise on maths than a practical curriculum.

The changes were highly progressive and exploratory-based rather than technique-centred.

In the teaching of maths, algorithms were pushed aside in favour of ‘finding your own way of solving the problem’.

Poor strategies such as ’chunking’ for solving division problems and ‘partitioning’ for subtraction and addition calculations replaced well-tested and straightforward methodologies that have been taught for generations.

Times tables were side-lined and the only requirement was to know them by the end of Year 6 when they were really needed for the most basic of multiplication calculations and calculators were used instead.

The same thing happened in literacy. Proven methods of learning were discarded in favour of a ‘modern’ approach.

To be honest, the curriculum was a disaster.

The attempted fixes came in the 1990s under the New Labour government.

It introduced the National Literacy Strategy in 1998 and the National Numeracy Strategy in 1999.

These lengthy documents attempted to interpret the National Curriculum and make it practical.

It led to schools having a ‘numeracy hour’ and a ‘literacy hour’ every day of the week.

However, the basis for all this work was still the highly flawed original curriculum and meant that the National Strategy documents in literacy and numeracy were almost as confusing and muddled as the curriculum itself.

When the source of the river is polluted all the lakes and pools down the mountain and in the valleys will be bracken.

Under the Coalition government in 2010, I was drafted onto the advisory committee that planned the primary maths element of the new curriculum.

Thankfully, previous mistakes were understood and methods that actually worked became favoured.

The full curriculum was rolled out in 2014 and was more traditional and structured.

And it is working.

Children moving up to secondary school have improved literacy and numeracy skills and are more able to cope with secondary education.

This is reflected in the scores they are achieving at 14 in the PISA tests. England is moving up the table.

Scotland watched this all happen then made exactly the same mistakes.

So what now?

John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, has promised a review, but I think this will be a ‘whitewash’ – an attempt to ‘kick it into the long grass’.

The fix will ultimately end up being some kind of tinkering rather than admitting it’s been a wholesale disaster from start to finish.

The SNP has allowed ideology to trump common sense in educational matters.

It believes that because it is a progressively left-wing party it must also embrace progressive policies in education – even if they don’t work.

The leadership must face up to it rather than try to put on a brave face.

It’s hard for the SNP to admit that England is right about anything, but on this issue it is.

Hopefully, the nationalists will realise what this is doing to the children of Scotland and will be prepared to make the necessary changes and chart a different course in education.