A FLAGSHIP Scottish Government initiative to transform the way pupils are taught in schools may never be fully delivered, academics have warned.

Analysis: from concept to classroom

The claim is made in the first major university study into the problematic implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

Stirling University found significant variation across secondary schools in the study, which took place in an unnamed council area. It also identified teacher concerns about growing workload, a lack of time for preparation and "vague" national guidelines.

The key findings of the report are:

l The majority of teachers welcome the principles of CfE, but highlight difficulties due to "confusing and vague" guidance and terminology.

l Many are making progress in implementation, but complain about increases in workload and have a lack of confidence and some "anxiety" about future direction.

l Of schools that have taken a long-term approach to CfE, some are making good progress while there have been "minimal changes to practice" at others.

l Insufficient time allocated in many schools for the development required to make sense of "complex and often novel concepts".

Dr Mark Priestley, from the university's school of education, concluded: "CfE has much to commend it, although its implementation has been far from smooth.

"There remains a risk that eventual implementation in many schools will not represent the sort of transformational change envisaged.

"Implementation is dependent upon the active engagement of professional and committed teachers ... such engagement has been rendered difficult for many by a lack of clarity and coherence in the documents that have guided implementation."

CfE was launched in November 2004 by the previous Scottish Executive to reform what is taught in nursery, primary and secondary schools.

It followed concerns teaching had become too focused on exams, with teachers complaining course content was too prescriptive and did not allow the interests of pupils to be pursued.

Teachers welcome the principles behind the changes, but argue not all secondary schools are ready to deliver in the current timescale, with the first pupils taking exams in 2013/14.

Surveys by teaching unions have identified issues over growing workload. The intention was to give more power to teachers to design courses in their own schools, but unions argue they do not have enough time.

The Scottish Government recently announced a series of measures to support implementation, including centrally produced course materials.

The Education Scotland quango is also conducting a national audit to establish the readiness of schools.

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the research highlighted the mixed experience of parents.

"This research demonstrates that the reality on the ground is extremely variable from innovative and radical to little more than a timetabling adjustment. Sadly, some parents are confirming this is their experience and concern," she said.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said most teachers believe CfE has the potential to fundamentally change Scottish education for the better. But she added: "My concern is that we lose that promise in a rush to implement when there is no educational reason for pressing ahead in the current timescale."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said progress had been made since the study.

"The report confirms that a number of issues require to be addressed quite urgently," he said. "However, the support package has gone some way towards addressing the concerns highlighted in this research and we believe it will make a difference."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We have listened to teachers' views and have responded supportively – most recently providing an additional £3.5 million support package relating specifically to the transition to the new qualifications, linked to wider CfE implementation.

"This research is based on information collected in the previous school year in a single council area and great strides have been made since then to ensure effective implementation and build the confidence of all teachers."