A MAJOR reform of Scottish schools is still seen as "mystery tour" by the teaching profession, new Education Secretary John Swinney has warned.

The comments came in Mr Swinney's first keynote speech since taking over as Education Secretary following the Scottish Parliament election.

The minister said there was still a lack of clarity amongst teachers as to how they should be assessing the progress of pupils under Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which was introduced in 2010.

Read more: SNP under fire as numeracy standards continue to slide

And he said the Scottish Government would provide a stronger message over what was required alongside school quango Education Scotland and exam body the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Education Scotland has already published revised guidance for schools over what is expected in the first three years of secondary - where the intended roll-out of a broad general education has been ignored by some schools.

Speaking to the annual conference of School Leaders' Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary headteachers, Mr Swinney said: "My feeling is CfE reforms have been effective in providing a much stronger broader education for young people, but what I am picking up is that in different parts of the education system many professionals feel they might be on a bit of a mystery tour as to what is expected of them.


"What we have probably done is gone from a very prescriptive curriculum to one that is correctly positioned and anchored around the importance of professional leadership and judgement, but what we still require is young people to demonstrate tangible, measurable progress and I don't think it is clear enough what that looks like and that is where clarity is required in both primary and secondary.

"I am not about to embark on widespread curricular reform because that is not what the system requires. What the system requires is greater and sharper clarity over what is expected."

Mr Swinney went on to say the Scottish Government would be looking at wider educational reforms contained in the SNP manifesto - including more direct funding of schools - but that the immediate priority was improving CfE and delivering on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's priority of closing the attainment gap between rich and poor.

Read more: SNP urged to outline school reform plans amid fears councils 'to be stripped' of education role

And he said the introduction of controversial new standardised assessments for primary and secondary schools would help provide greater clarity to teachers.

He added: "We have a gap in attainment that is impossible to justify and we have to close that gap and ensure young people are excelling and to do that we need to be able to measure progress and see tangible evidence of progress that young people are making.

"I don't want to go back to the sort of prescriptive curriculum that existed before, but people do need a firmer sense of where they are going, about what is expected of them and how that is communicated to parents.


"We will have standardised assessments that will be able to give us the ability to see the progression journey. Today we don't have sufficiently clear data about the progression of young people through our education system."

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of SLS, welcomed the comments and said he hoped it would also lead to a lessening of assessment in schools, which a recent report found was "unintended and unsustainable".

He said: "The time is right and proper to have more of a central steer on the parameters within which we should be operating from the broad general education onwards so there can be a common consensus on the direction of travel.

Read more: The SNP has not learned any lessons when it comes to its performance in education

"We need assessment to be managed in a way that actually gives relevance to a child's learning across the system within Scotland and there is no doubt that at the moment we are over-assessing children. We need to isolate the bits that matter."

Earlier this week an official survey found standards of numeracy amongst Scottish pupils are continuing to fall despite a drive to improve basic skills.

The Scottish Survey of Numeracy also found pupils from better off areas are continuing to record better results than those from the most deprived communities with the attainment gap between rich and poor getting worse in some cases.