SCOTLAND'S global reputation for schools excellence is at risk by a system that was "incoherent, under-supported and poorly funded" at launch and is being further hit by the coronavirus pandemic, a leading educational charity has warned.

The evolving Curriculum for Excellence for learners from the ages of three to eight was first introduced ten years ago, and the Scottish government insisted its radical educational shake-up was "strong, bold and effective".

It aimed to provide "continuous education" with an emphasis on "cross-curricular teaching".

It provided teachers with the freedom to teach fewer subjects, in greater depth and in the style they wished. Children would spend less time being assessed, and more time learning.

Critics questioned whether literacy and numeracy would really improve if children were not really assessed on this until secondary.

But Mike Robinson, chief executive of the 134-year-old Royal Scottish Geographical Society educational charity writing in the Herald today said that even before the pandemic hit, there were "real concerns" about the delivery of curriculum in Scottish schools.

This was mostly through the "over-strict interpretation" of how the necessary hours of each subject should be taught in secondary school, leading to a "constraint on the number of courses that pupils could be offered".

There remains concerns about the effectiveness of CfE exacerbated by learners being confined to home instead of being at school.

Mr Robinson who said CfE had been hit by in its launch by financial restraints, said it was "inconceivable" that schools had not lost even further time due to the coronavirus lockdown.

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He said: "Scottish education has long been held up as a global example and is widely regarded and copied by many countries around the world. This reputation is merited from decades, if not centuries, of priority given to quality education. "I am beginning to worry, however, that this historical reputation is at risk of being exactly that – historical, and the commonly held view that Scottish education is some of the best in the world, perpetuates a conceit that makes us less responsive when issues do come to light."

Concerns about a decline in standards have persisted since the CfE launch.

Three-yearly studies run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – the Programme for International Student Assessment, which measures the attainment of students aged around 15 marked this downward trend.

Scotland used to be well ahead of the OECD average. As of 2018 it had sunk to average with analysts saying it is because there has been an absolute Scottish decline.

Similar conclusions have been reached by some experts with the annual Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, which in 2018 had been showing since 2011 a fall in attainment in curricular areas among children in primary school and in early secondary.

In December, official figures showed that the proportion of pupils reaching the expected level of literacy and numeracy for their age and stage was growing very slowly.

But it also showed that more than a quarter of primary pupils are still failing to reach the expected level in literacy and around a fifth are not reaching the expected standard in numeracy.

The figures based on teacher's judgements over whether pupils are achieving the expected level for their age and stage under CfE – show that 72 per cent of primary pupils were on track when it came to literacy and 79 per cent hit the expected level for numeracy. The figures are a rise of one percentage point rise on the previous year.

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A workload campaign Make Time for Teaching was launched six years ago 

In June, the Scottish government wrote to directors of education saying it was suspending the collection of the literacy and numeracy attainment data it uses to monitor whether the attainment gap is closing.

The government said there was “no strong rationale” this year for gathering the data on pupil performance in literacy and numeracy given concerns it would “add considerably to the other pressures on school and education authority staff”, as well as potentially not being “comparable with previous years”.

Every year since 2016, teachers have been required to submit the so-called Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (Acel) data, which is based on their judgements about whether or not pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 are achieving the expected level in literacy and numeracy for their age and stage.

The controversial Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) were introduced to inform the teachers’ decisions and improve consistency of teacher assessment between schools and councils.

That scheme replaced a sample survey, the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN), which collected information on pupil performance in literacy and numeracy in alternate years.

Critics say the decision to scrap the SSLN left Scotland with a data black hole given Acel had taken years to bed-in and it was only in 2019 that the “experimental statistics” label was removed from the data.

Scottish parliament’s education committee was told last year it would be at least 2022 before the Scottish government had three years of comparable data.

Education secretary John Swinney has said that school exams are set to be held again next year, despite the continuing uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic, with pupils only returning to schools a month ago.

READ MORE: Teacher warns Nicola Sturgeon: Curriculum for Excellence is utterly failing children in school

School exams were cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teacher predictions were moderated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority resulting in a methodology that disproportionately affected pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Mr Robinson said that in the wake of the pandemic pupils have experienced "less face-to-face time and more ‘self-learning’ phases than ever, and at a younger age".

"This is especially a problem for those facing exams in the not too distant future," he said.

"It was almost impossible to cover all the exam content before the pandemic. It is utterly impractical to expect teachers and pupils to do so now."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Curriculum for Excellence helps equip pupils with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century. It means pupils learn a wide range of subjects up to the end of S3. Schools then have the freedom to design a set of courses, qualifications and awards between S4 and S6, tailored to meet young people’s needs.

“Young people can choose from a much broader range of pathways than before. What matters is the qualifications that pupils leave school with and last year a record proportion went on to positive destinations including work, training or further study.

“The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges for teachers and pupils. We have provided £80 million to local authorities, enough to recruit around 1,400 additional teachers and 200 support staff, in order to bring much needed resilience to the education system and to compensate for any loss of learning suffered by children and young people during lockdown.”