THE latest broadside to be aimed at Scotland’s reformed Curriculum for Excellence is that it has increased the stresses faced by pupils.

CfE was introduced partly as an antidote to a former curriculum model which focused too heavily on exams.

The thinking was that “big bang” end of term exams don’t tell the whole story of a pupil’s progress, can artificially inflate the marks of someone who simply has a good memory and, worst of all, encourage unimaginative rote learning.

In contrast, CfE was supposed to offer a refreshing alternative with more classroom-based assessment, less reliance on exams and more time in the first three years of secondary to explore learning.

For a number of reasons this model has never taken root and many schools are doing exactly what they have always done, but with the unintended consequence of even greater assessment pressure.

With the first three years of secondary supposed to be free from the stresses of working towards examinations, pupils are instead left trying to cram National 5s into fourth year, Highers into fifth year and Advanced Highers in sixth year.

Very few schools have adopted the sort of alternative models welcomed under CfE which would allow academically-minded pupils to skip National 5s altogether and work towards their Highers over two years instead.

There has been a further shift in importance towards the end of year exam which followed concerns over the mounting workload and bureaucracy associated with CfE’s classroom-based assessments.

As a result of pressure from teaching unions to reduce the burden Education Secretary John Swinney decided to scrap so-called unit assessments.

That was supposed to reduce workload and pressure on both teachers and pupils, but the Scottish Qualifications Authority ruled that the material formerly assessed in the units should be introduced into final exams.

That means under CfE many pupils are now facing significantly longer periods of time in the exam hall than they were before, raising the prospect of a return of all the old fears that teachers will revert to “teaching to the test” and pupils unsuited to long examinations will be disadvantaged.