Implementation of Curriculum for Excellence Q and A

I’ve just discovered the Q&A Document on CfE on the LTS website which is aimed at practitioners. Many of these questions were coming up at the recent CfE Dropin sessions so I thought it would be useful to share this here:

This Q&A document is an outcome of the Curriculum for Excellence Practitioner Group. It offers responses to some key issues around the implementation of CfE, focusing predominantly on the secondary sector. The information is intended to support practitioners in their own understanding, and also assist them in their communications with parents and carers.

Support for Implementation

Have the new assessment approaches for Curriculum for Excellence been finalised?
The new assessment approaches are described in the already available Framework for Assessment (Building the Curriculum 5). The Framework provides advice on assessment for Curriculum for Excellence to support schools and other centres in planning, designing and putting into practice the curriculum and approaches to assessment.

The Framework emphasises the need to use a wider range of assessment methods than at present to raise standards and promote greater breadth, challenge and application of learning. There will also be a greater focus upon skills development.

The new system includes the introduction of a national system of quality assurance and moderation and, in the case of qualifications, verification to assist teachers in achieving greater consistency and confidence in their professional judgements. Guidance on “Understanding, Applying and Sharing Standards in Assessment for Curriculum for Excellence: Quality Assurance and Moderation” is now available on the Curriculum for Excellence website. This provides:

  • guidance on the support and structures being put in place at national level to ensure that quality assurance and moderation arrangements are fair, robust and consistent.
  • guidance and an illustration of effective approaches at local level drawn from examples of current practice.

Are the new Qualifications ready? Teachers need to know what they are expected to be preparing the new S1 intake for.
Full details of the new and revised Curriculum for Excellence qualifications in each of the subject areas are still being developed. Key milestones are as follows:

  • January 2011: Rationales and Course Summaries for National 4 and National 5 qualifications published on SQA website
  • April 2011: Draft specifications for new National 4 and National 5 qualifications published on SQA website
  • April 2012: Final specifications for the new National 4 and National 5 and new Access and Higher qualifications published
  • 2012-13: Last certification of Standard Grades
  • April 2013: Final specifications for new Advanced Highers published
  • 2013-14: National 4 and National 5 and new Access introduced – dual run with current National courses from Intermediate 1 to Advanced Higher
  • 2014-15: New National Courses at Higher introduced – dual run with current National courses from Intermediate 1 to Advanced Higher
  • 2015-16: New National Courses at Advanced Higher introduced

It is important that teachers are provided with information and have an opportunity to contribute throughout the development process, and SQA are therefore engaging with all stakeholders, including teachers and education professionals and other stakeholders. Information will be regularly published on SQA’s Curriculum for Excellence web pages, and through the MyAlerts system, stakeholders can request to be notified by email when new draft documents are published. SQA would encourage practitioners to feed in their views to the development.

In July 2010, SQA published its New Qualification Progress Reports and its Overview of Qualifications Reports, which provide a summary of the eight curriculum areas together with an overview of the proposed suites of courses contained within each area. Practitioners are invited to submit their comments and views on the reports at the “Have Your Say” section on the SQA website.

SQA is committed to working with local authorities and individual centres to ensure the new qualifications system is successfully supported and implemented in time for the 2013/14 exam diet.

In terms of the current S1, their learning should be based on the Experiences and Outcomes. The new qualifications themselves are being designed to enable progression from those Experiences and Outcomes, allowing assessment to flow from learning.

When will teachers know when and how literacy and numeracy will be assessed, and certificated for national qualification?
It has been agreed that NQ Units in Literacy and Numeracy will be developed at SCQF levels 3, 4 and 5; at levels 3 and 4 the Units will form part of English and Maths Courses; at level 5, literacy and numeracy will be partially embedded within English and Maths Courses. Learners wishing certification in literacy and/or numeracy only will be able to take the free-standing units.

The Chair of the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board wrote to all Headteachers and College Principals in July 2010 providing information on recognising literacy and numeracy skills. A copy of this letter is available from the Scottish Government website:

How are HMIe supporting educational establishments in their implementation of CfE?
HM Inspectors engage with staff during inspections of pre-school establishments, schools, CLD learning communities and in other inspection activities such as reviews of college provision. In gathering evidence inspectors have professional dialogue with staff about key aspects of their work, including the curriculum, learning and teaching, and assessment of learners’ progress and achievement. Towards the end of inspections there is further discussion with staff about key findings. In addition to published inspection reports on individual establishments, staff also have access to professional reports in the form of written records of findings. All of these discussions and reports are designed to be helpful and supportive to staff as they work to implement Curriculum for Excellence.

HMIE also publishes helpful reports on good practice on a range of general aspects such as self-evaluation, leadership and professional development, and on specific aspects such as individual subjects or curriculum areas.

In addition, and specifically to support schools as they work to implement Curriculum for Excellence, HMIE have suspended its programme of inspections of secondary schools, secondary special schools, all-through schools and CLD learning communities from September to December 2010. HMIE are also reducing the number of inspections of primary schools in this period. The time freed up is being used to provide support for establishments in implementing their new curriculum structures. The main focus will be on secondary schools, although support may be extended to other sectors to reflect need and demand. HMIE District Inspectors worked in partnership with Directors of Education to agree a plan of support for each authority. The plans involve support visits to individual establishments and also events involving cross-authority groupings such as headteachers, quality improvement staff, curriculum leaders and CLD practitioners. In this way any secondary school which needs support will receive help in the areas it requires.

How is it ensured that Curriculum for Excellence is being effectively delivered outwith formal educational settings?
During the broad general phase of education, young people will often experience learning in a wider range of contexts than through subject based learning alone, through opportunities provided by, for example, out-of-school-hours learning or involvement in the voluntary sector.

In the senior phase, the young person may learn out with school for all or part of the time and it is important that there is clarity of roles. The school should retain overall responsibility for planning the most appropriate educational provision for the young person and for ensuring that development and progress are regularly reviewed. Successful partnership working and a high level of commitment is of key importance. Therefore, it will be important for partners to establish mechanisms to share information.

Voluntary sector youth work organisations are a key partner in the delivery of CfE. A youth work approach to learning in community settings can help re-engage young people in learning and improve their chances of moving successfully into work, employment and further and higher education.


Should teachers be assessing pupils against each of the experiences and outcomes within the guidance, across subjects?
No. Teachers do not have to show evidence of assessment against each individual E&O within the guidance. Assessing pupils against every experience and outcome in each curriculum area risks promoting a narrow “tick box” approach to learning. Instead, teachers should develop a range of assessment approaches to demonstrate the learner’s knowledge, understanding and skills from a broad range of contexts, checking how a learner is progressing and that learning is secure. The evidence will be different depending on the kind of learning being assessed, the learning activity and learners’ preferences about how to show what they have learned. Evidence will come from day-to-day learning as well as from specific assessment tasks, activities, tests and examinations.

Within a level for a curriculum area, or part of an area within an organiser such as reading within Literacy and English, the experiences and outcomes describe the knowledge, understanding, attributes and skills expected. Pupils will need to show that they:

  • have achieved a breadth of learning across the experiences and outcomes for an aspect of the curriculum.
  • can respond to the level of challenge set out in the experiences and outcomes and are moving forward to more challenging learning in some aspects.
  • can apply what they have learned in new and unfamiliar situations.

Should the assessment approaches contained within the NAR be applied to all aspects of the curriculum?
Yes. The NAR contains a wide range of quality assured assessment guidance, resources and illustrations of learners’ performance. Teachers can use this material in an ongoing way to assess progress and performance for learners aged 3-15.

The initial content relates to literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing across curriculum areas. The NAR is an ongoing resource. LTS and SQA are developing further content for curriculum areas. Future developments of NAR will enable teaching staff to create and share their own assessment materials and support will be developed for post-age 15 learners.

Are teachers being allowed time to work through the new assessment approaches which make up the National Assessment Resource (NAR)?
The Scottish Government has provided teachers with three additional in-service days to supplement teachers’ annual 35 hours CPD time and 5 in-service days. This includes an in-service day specifically focused on assessment.

Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) has been producing support materials on assessment for in-service days and schools have reported that this material has proved helpful.

In developing new moderation approaches, are schools linking up with partners who have experience in this area, such as colleges?

Building the Curriculum 5 encourages the development of cross-sector partnerships, including between schools and colleges. This will help to ensure that:

  • there is a common understanding of standards and assessment approaches and the contribution each partner is making.
  • there is continuity and progression in learning and teaching methodologies and recognition of achievements.

All partners have important roles in sharing information, identifying needs, tracking and monitoring progress and providing ongoing support.

Given its format, how can the NAR capture all forms of assessment which make up CfE?
The NAR provides quality-assured assessment materials exemplifying a wide range of assessment approaches and evidence for learners aged 3-15. The initial content relates to literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing across curriculum areas. This includes ‘assessment exemplars’ – materials developed from real life classroom practice exemplifying learning, teaching and assessment activities for Curriculum for Excellence and ‘assessment tasks’ in literacy and numeracy for the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, developed and quality assured by SQA.

NAR is an ongoing resource. LTS and SQA are developing further content for curriculum areas. Future developments of NAR will enable teaching staff to create and share their own assessment materials, and support will be developed for post-age 15 learners.

The previous assessment exemplars on the CfE website were difficult to navigate – have improvements be made to NAR?
The previous early assessment examplars on Learning and Teaching Scotland’s website do not provide an indication of how the NAR operates.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning launched NAR at the Scottish Learning Festival on 22 September 2010. User guidance and other information and support is available to ensure that NAR is as easy to use as possible.

Development of the New Qualifications

What is the relationship between the current qualifications and the new National Courses?
Standard Grades (General and Credit) and Intermediate 1 and 2 are being replaced by National 4 (internally assessed by teachers) and National 5 (involving a final external assessment, usually an exam).
Access, Higher and Advanced Higher Courses will remain but will be revised to reflect the aims, values and principles of Curriculum for Excellence.

How do choices on qualifications relate to the period of learning from S1-S3?
The new qualifications will build upon learners’ experiences in S1-S3, ensuring good progression from the experiences and outcomes. Curriculum Level 4 experiences and outcomes are broadly equivalent in terms of demand with SCQF level 4 National 4 qualifications.

Learners will choose which qualifications to take in the senior phase before S4 and will be assessed for these qualifications from S4 onwards.

Will the new qualifications reflect the skills young people are gaining, building on new approaches to the learning and teaching, as well as just the content of subjects?
The new National Qualifications will support the values, purposes and principles of Curriculum for Excellence, and will develop subject specific skills alongside skills for learning, life and work. The qualifications which learners achieve will recognise the skills, attributes, knowledge and abilities they have acquired.

Through the qualifications development process, SQA will ensure the new qualifications build on the experiences and outcomes and ensure, as appropriate, the skills in these and in Building the Curriculum 4 permeate the qualifications in a manageable, appropriate and visible way.

While an emphasis has been placed on skills, knowledge and understanding are essential to the development and application of skills. This has been reflected in the curriculum and will be reflected in the make up of the new National Qualifications. The balance between specifying skills and specifying a body of knowledge will vary across subjects and will be a matter for SQA, working with subject experts, through the qualifications design process

How many qualifications will young people take, when will they be required to make the relevant decisions, and when will they begin to study for them?
The precise number and range of qualifications, as well as when they are undertaken, will, as at present, be a decision for schools, colleges and local education authorities to take in consultation with parents, employers and learners.

S1-S3 will be designed to provide a broad, general education, but there will be scope for choices including increasing specialisation during that time, ensuring learners have the right level of challenge and support.

This will provide a strong basis for moving on to the learning for qualifications

Given that it is likely that learners will choose ‘core subjects’ to study in the first instance, such as English, Maths, Science, Social Subjects, will other subjects be undermined?
Decisions on the range of subjects to offer will be taken by individual schools, colleges and local education authorities, in consultation with learners and parents. As at present learners will be encouraged not to close down the study of a wide range of subjects too soon, and will be supported to choose subjects which are right for them.

The programme of new and revised qualifications being developed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, together with increased awareness and use of the full SQA portfolio, will ensure that there is a wide range of options available.

If pupils are to take up to 8 qualifications in S4, how can this be managed?
As indicated above, the new qualifications will build upon earlier learning. Whilst formal assessment for the new qualifications should take place from S4, there is flexibility for learning prior to that point to contribute to the later achievement of National Qualifications.

Illustrations of how the senior phase could be delivered have been developed – they are not exhaustive or intended to be prescriptive. The models are available at:

Assessment for qualifications – at Unit and Course level – will be fit for purpose and proportionate. Where it is appropriate for the subject area, qualification designers will develop combined assessment approaches as well as Unit by Unit assessment.

If some schools adopt a model whereby pupils choose 5/6 options from S4 (instead of up to 8 in S3/4), has consideration been given for the implications for genuine curricular breadth and depth?

Breadth is a key feature of secondary education under Curriculum for Excellence. S1-S3 should be designed to deliver a broad general education and the senior phase will build upon this, including by providing opportunities to young people to learn in a wider range of contexts through school partnerships – for example, through colleges, work related activities and voluntary work within communities.

Schools and colleges will have the flexibility to take account of learners’ needs and find the most appropriate ways of providing personalisation and choice for individuals. Increasing specialisation during S1-S3 will allow for learning at a more advanced stage.

The number of qualifications taken in the senior phase should be appropriate for each learner, based on discussions in schools and colleges, in consultation with parents and employers where appropriate.

Will the delivery of the new National Courses be on a comprehensive system basis, or will streaming emerge?
It is an agreed principle that the new National Qualifications should “take into consideration the needs of all learners and should be designed to be as accessible as possible to learners who will achieve in different ways and at a different pace”. They will also “take into consideration practical aspects of delivery” (SQA Design Principles).

In keeping with this, the new National Courses will be designed, where appropriate, to facilitate bi-level teaching (e.g. Access/National, National 4&5, National 5/Higher) where centres wish to take this approach. However, it will be for schools and colleges to decide how they will organise their classes and the suitability of this approach is likely to vary according to the subject

The increased flexibility inherent in CfE would allow the most able young people, as at present, to begin studying for Highers in S4. The decision to support such flexible arrangements will rest ultimately with schools and local authorities.

The Role of Colleges as partners

How can colleges, as delivery partners, ensure learners can access suitable classes at the appropriate time, given the variation in timetables across and within education authorities?
Colleges will offer the new National Courses as part of their portfolio, as they do currently. In addition, schools and colleges already work together in partnership to develop provision for the young people. There may be a need for further alignment of timetables but this is for those partnerships to determine. Examples of timetabling models which will provide an illustration of some different approaches to delivery, including delivery in colleges, are published on the CfE website.

Schools will be expected to plan in a coherent way with partners how best to provide opportunities that meet the needs of all young people. Discussions at school-college partnership groups will help to determine college timetabling solutions e.g. colleges could offer schools in their area timetabling models to consider. Alternatively, school timetabling could involve all colleges within the area.

Who should meet the costs of school pupils attending college classes?
Meeting the costs of school pupils attending college classes should be agreed in partnership between the college and the Local Authority and/or school.

How can the expected partnerships with colleges be facilitated in rural areas, where the geography poses challenges for access?
Delivery in rural areas currently has some specific challenges and will continue to do so. However, the following examples could be considered:

  • Satellite delivery: Colleges could deliver a specific course in a school within its region, with learners from other schools in the surrounding area taking part. This could include ‘twilight courses’ (e.g. timetabled between 4:30pm and 6:30pm)
  • Certain Higher National Units could be delivered via online learning.

You can download the document by clicking here.