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INSIDE TRACK: Cheap scare stories do nothing to inform CfE debate

IT has to go down as one of the shoddiest pieces of opportunistic scaremongering in recent memory.

Earlier this week, a front-page article in a Scottish tabloid raised the spectre of disarray in the country's secondary schools under the headline "School exams chaos boss quits".

The story described the "fury" as 54-year-old Roderic Gillespie, head of Curriculum for Excellence development with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), handed in his resignation "just weeks before his controversial tests begin".

There was nothing, however, in the article to back up the assertion that Mr Gillespie was solely responsible for the new National 4 and National 5 exams - which replace Standard Grades this summer.

In fact, he is one of eight managers working on the project under Gill Stewart, whose title as director of qualifications development gives a strong clue as to who is actually in charge of the new exams.

Given the Nationals are some 40 days away, all of the development work for these has already been concluded. And Mr Gillespie will also be working a 12-week notice period, which covers most of the exam diet anyway.

There was even less in the article to support the suggestion of any fury surrounding the resignation.

Teaching unions - not known for their reticence in attacking the SQA over the roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and its associated exams - were silent on the matter. National groups representing parents - equally anxious to ensure all goes well - were nowhere to be seen.

All the newspaper could offer was an "SQA insider" who said in a rather non-furious way that the timing "certainly looks fishy".

The only named individual to comment specifically on the story, rather than raising general concerns about CfE, was Kezia Dugdale, the education spokeswoman for the Scottish Labour Party.

"With the man charged with implementing the exams now leaving it raises even more questions about how difficult the next few weeks are going to be," she said.

It would be fair to say CfE has not had its troubles to seek. Despite a consensus in support of the intentions of CfE to move away from mindless rote learning towards a broader experience for pupils that is less reliant on exams, the reforms have been dogged with criticism and controversy.

The increased workload of teachers and lack of support materials, the scarcity of revision texts for pupils and poor communication from the SQA and curriculum body Education Scotland have all been, rightly, aired in the nation's press in recent months.

But the crucial difference between these issues and the artifical furore over the departure of Mr Gillespie - in a story that should more accurately have been accompanied with the headline "Man gets new job" - is that they are real concerns.

It is not in the interests of the thousands of pupils who will be sitting their exams from April 29 to be the subject of cheap scare tactics which ultimately make it harder for politicians and media organisations to raise legitimate grievances about how CfE is being implemented.

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