Curriculum review for Scotland (updated)

Education Debate in the Scottish Parliament, 15 January 2020, and updates: February and April 2020

By Richard Fraser, Editor

16 January 2020 + updates of 6 and 26 February 2020 below video link

In the Education Debate of 15 January 2020 in the Scottish Parliament, MSPs voted for a full review of the senior phase of the Curriculum for Excellence. Education Secretary John Swinney was defeated in an attempt to block calls for a comprehensive review.

The Education and Skills Committee is already undertaking an independent review of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence, but the Conservatives put forward a motion calling for that inquiry to be extended to include ‘a full review of the broad general education and how it articulates with the senior phase’.

The motion was backed by 63 votes with 60 against.

The MSPs also urged the government to accept there were ‘some key weaknesses in some key aspects of Scotland’s school education and the qualifications structure that challenge its claim that Scotland’s schools are producing “a strong set of results”’.

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said there were some ‘encouraging aspects of attainment in Scottish schools’ but cited the recent Programme for International Assessment (PISA) results, saying that, although reading scores had improved, they were ‘not back to 2012 levels’. She also highlighted ‘the four-year decline in Higher pass rates’.

Mr Swinney argued that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had reviewed the broad general education – which runs from age three to 15 – back in 2015 and the Scottish Government was in the process of implementing those recommendations.

Click on the image to watch the debate of 15 January 2020 (opens in new window):


Update: 6 February 2020

Education Secretary John Swinney has written to Holyrood's Education Committee (pdf), announcing his decision to widen the review to cover the whole of Curriculum for Excellence,  rather than just focus on the senior phase. 

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will lead the expanded review, with the findings due early next year (BBC News).

Update on review report date, 28 April 2020:

Update: 26 February 2020

On 25 February, the Education Committee called for a subject by subject focus in the upcoming education review and this was raised when John Swinney was questioned in Parliament on the highers results.

On 26 February, the Scottish Government published and commented on the remit of the OECD-led review of the curriculum.

The review will cover the Broad General Education and the Senior Phase and the articulation between the two.  It will explore key issues including:

  • curriculum design;
  • depth and breadth of learning in the Senior Phase;
  • local flexibility versus increased prescription;
  • the transition from the BGE into Senior Phase;
  • vocational and academic learning and awards; and
  • roles and responsibilities in relation to the curriculum.


For far too long on both sides of the border, there has been too much emphasis on pen & paper "academic" subjects. We now have the label"vocational" which will simply mean these subjects will almost for ever be in a "2nd division".

As long ago as 1971, my 1st teching job in FE included day release 4th year pupils from schools in S Yorks who came for commecial subjects, of which I taught commerce. They wanted to come, motivation was high and discipline rarely a problem.

Since then ROSLA did not help motivation and decades later, despite the re-invention of apprenticeships, we still have disaffected pupils, and under achievment.

At the then PAT conference at Guildford, in 1985 I was interviewed by Frank Baugh on BBCTV re our motion: "flexible age of transfer between academic establishments". The acronym FATBEE never caught on, we still do not allow pupils to learn ouside school, despite their being bored out of their pants trying to get a grade C in maths learning stuff they will never use.

We are told there are skill shortages everywhere, so we need migrants to do work we cannot do ourselves. Manufacturing in Scotland has fallen off the cliff with minimal sign of recovering unless I have missed it. Will we ever see plumbing, joinery, auto engineering, horticulture, forestry, bricklaying, other building skills, etc taught in schools that take some pupils away from their desks and give them a sporting chance of learning skills they can sell to employers? I'm not holding my breath.

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