Evaluation of curriculum design in Scotland


Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been, since it was launched in 2010, the subject of praise and scrutiny in equal measure. Sitting under the principles of CfE, there are many admirable aspects to what is expected from schools in their curriculum design. These include making sure they take account of children and young people’s views, and involving the local community to ensure that the school’s curriculum sits within the right context and delivers education that is relevant to its community as well as the country’s needs.

The publication of the OECD report ‘Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: into the future’ in June 2020 ushered in a period of change in Scottish education. The subsequent programme for education reform in Scotland has brought with it widespread debate on what the Scottish education system could look like in the future.

The importance of curriculum design and curriculum leadership cannot be understated. The decisions on what children and young people will learn and the knowledge and skills that they will develop hold enormous significance when we consider how we are preparing them for the social, economic, political and cultural challenges that face society in the 21st century.

We wanted to understand more closely how some aspects of CfE are being delivered in Scottish schools. This report presents HM Inspectors’ professional view of curriculum design in Scotland. These findings are drawn from a selection of 50 schools and settings nominated by all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities, alongside broader inspection evidence.

The report considers how well schools and settings take account of national guidance and local needs when designing their curriculum to meet the current and future needs of their learners. It also explores the extent to which schools and settings involve learners, staff, parents and partners in designing their curriculum.

There is a strong appetite in Scottish schools and settings to focus on reviewing and enhancing the curriculum. It is encouraging to report on the evidence of schools and settings using national guidance to design high-quality, progressive curriculums that take account of the local context. Staff use their local area well to provide children and young people with learning that helps them understand their local historical, geographical and economic context. There is also evidence of schools providing meaningful opportunities for children and young people to develop a range of skills to help them now and in the future.

Staff in schools and settings recognise the crucial correlation that exists between curriculum quality and the quality of curriculum review. Participatory approaches that incorporate the views of children and young people, parents and partners should be standard practice when schools/settings are engaged in ongoing curriculum review. Future-orientated curriculums that ensure parity of esteem for children and young people require this level of ongoing curriculum review.

As Scotland’s education reform programme continues its progress, we know that there is much anticipation about the future characteristics of qualifications and assessment in Scotland following the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment (IRQA) and the implications of the Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape.

The IRQA reported that the narrowing of the S3 curriculum is incongruent with the aims of CfE. This national thematic inspection provides evidence that the picture of S3 curriculum-making across the country is varied, and that preparation for the senior phase can often deter secondary schools from ensuring a broad general education phase to the end of S3.

This report not only highlights Scotland’s progress in curriculum design but also looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities that lie before us. I hope the findings in this report will support schools, settings and their partners as they continue to review and develop their curriculum.

We as the education inspectorate now also need to do more. We are increasing our efforts through national thematic inspections to support the Curriculum Improvement Cycle. HM Inspectors look forward to continuing to work with settings, schools, local authorities and other partners, in driving further curriculum improvements for the benefit of Scotland’s children and young people.

Signature for Janie McManus

Janie McManus
His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education