University of Stirling announces new research into Curriculum for Excellence

Researchers at the University of Stirling have published their research into the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in Scotland.

The CfE is generally viewed as a landmark development in Scottish education which calls for a shift in classroom practices towards more pupil centred approaches to education. This is accompanied by a renewed view of teachers as professional developers of the curriculum and agents of change, and a new emphasis on flexible, local planning.

Dr Mark Priestley and Sarah Minty, of the School of Education at Stirling, carried out the research within a large local authority during 2011. Dr Priestley says: “Despite the far-reaching implications of this innovation, there has been little systematic research to date on the new curriculum. Our study partially fills this gap, primarily exploring teachers’ views of the new curriculum, and the nature and extent of implementation.”

The research was conducted in tandem with a Scottish Government funded partnership project, established between a Scottish local authority and the University of Stirling. The project contributed to the development of CfE within the authority by providing explicit support for curriculum development to a number of different networks of practitioners.

Dr Priestley continues: “The research aimed to identify effective practices of curriculum implementation and teachers' professional learning in the context of CfE. It also produced insights to inform sustainable, large-scale curriculum change and support for teachers' professional learning. We anticipate that the findings will help to positively inform existing changes to the curriculum within Scotland”.

The summary of the research findings are:

  • The majority of teachers welcomed in general the principles of CfE. However there was, in many cases, a lack of fit between the philosophy of the new curriculum at a more fundamental level and teachers' views of knowledge and learning. In practice, this led to difficulties in implementing CfE. Related to this, many teachers found the guidance and terminology associated with CfE confusing and ‘vague'.
  • Many teachers said they were making progress in implementation, but this was accompanied by increases in workload, a lack of confidence and some anxiety about the directions taken within CfE. Progress in the implementation of CfE has been variable across and within schools. In general primary schools have made more progress than secondary schools.
  • Schools that have taken a long-term, big picture approach to implementing CfE have made progress. In some schools, implementation consisted of checking whether existing practice fits with the Experiences and Outcomes of CfE. In some cases this has led to strategic compliance with the new curriculum and fragmented, minimal changes to practice.
  • Many teachers also perceived mixed messages in policy relating to CfE. They pointed to tensions between the ‘big ideas' of the curriculum and the finer detail of the Experiences and Outcomes. There were also tensions between the open ways of working advocated within CfE, and a continued emphasis on accountability driven by pressures to raise attainment. Such tensions further intensified the difficulties (and risks) experienced in implementing CfE.
  • There has been insufficient time allocated in many schools for the sorts of high-quality teacher dialogue required to make sense of what are complex and often novel concepts around teaching and learning. Where opportunities for such dialogue have been made available (for example through the authority's specialist subject working groups), a greater clarity and sense of purpose has emerged about CfE, and implementation has been enhanced.Dr Priestley concludes: “Our research points to a number of implications both for school practices and for future curriculum policy in Scotland – nationally and within local authorities. The research suggests that implementation has been less problematic where schools have been able to develop and articulate a clear vision for CfE.”

A research report is available for download from the project website at: