PARENTS are paying for counselling for their children to help them cope with the pressure of school exams, a conference was told.

Eileen Prior, executive director of parent body Connect, said the situation had arisen because of the way schools were implementing Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

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The reforms were supposed to make exams less important and allow pupils more freedom to explore subjects that interested them without the pressure of constant assessment.

However, Ms Prior told a Scotland Policy Conferences event on the curriculum in Edinburgh that pupils were experiencing more testing than ever before.

She said: “Largely within the secondary sector Curriculum for Excellence is almost non existent.

“We have seen very little change in practice and instead of having less assessment we now have more.

“Parents are quite distressed at the assessment burden and it is creating havoc in secondary schools.

“We have had parent groups who have paid for counsellors to work with their children because they are so anxious and so worked up about the assessment burden and we are now seeing that pressure moving into primary schools.”

Neil McLennan, director of leadership programmes at Aberdeen University’s School of Education, told the conference the original concepts of CfE were now “dead”.

He said: “It started life already behind and from thereon in was not nurtured. It was killed by those who conceived it and those who were supposed to nurture it.

“Have we fully researched and diagnosed the issues which are holding Scottish education back? At present critics are marked out as dissenters and marginalised.

“An open, mature discussion on what is going wrong is needed and it needs to involve all possible stakeholders.”

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Mr McLennan said current moves to place more power in the hands of headteachers and regional support bodies at the expense of councils would introduce a more “controlling and centralised environment”.

And he called for education to be taken out of the hands of politicians adding: “Politics has eroded consensus on CfE with a plethora of policy, little of which has had the impact intended.

“Policies since CfE’s launch have moved from its foundations. There has been lots of busy policy work, lots of white noise, but limited impact.”

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Paul Thomson, the rector of Jordanhill School in Glasgow, also highlighted concerns over the development of the curriculum.

He warned that too much of a focus on interdisciplinary learning at the expense of basic subject knowledge made it harder for pupils of all backgrounds to access more complicated areas of the curriculum.

He said: “Any school which predominantly bases young people’s learning on inter-disciplinary approaches is doing them a fundamental disservice.

“If we want to close the attainment gap we need to give children the range of vocabulary, the number skills, the linguistic and scientific underpinnings and habits to allow them to engage.”

However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers rejected the criticism arguing CfE had been validated as a “bold and effective” approach by the OECD.

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She added: “CfE is about providing young people with a well-rounded education that prepares them to thrive in today’s world, and the latest exam results show that many young people are now leaving school with a greater range of qualifications, skills-based awards and achievements.

“Our education reforms will give more power and money directly to schools, empowering teachers to fully deliver the vision of CfE.”