Curriculum regulation in Scotland: A wolf in sheep’s clothing is still a wolf

Mark Priestley

Abstract


Following political devolution in 1999, Scotland’s already distinctive education system has diverged further from the rest of the United Kingdom. A major trend has been a weakening of input regulation of the school curriculum. Scotland’s recently developed Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been predicated upon notions of curricular flexibility, local autonomy and school-based curriculum development. Ostensibly Scotland has entered a new era of curricular autonomy for schools and teachers. However, while Scotland has escaped some of the worst excesses of England’s marketised approaches to regulating outputs, the new curriculum has been accompanied by high levels of output regulation – most notably the recourse to external inspections and the use of attainment data to judge of the effectiveness of schools – which reduce school autonomy. Although there have been recent attempts to soften this approach in line with the spirit of CfE, it is evident that such methods for accountability exert an effect on schools, contributing to cultures of performativity, creating perverse incentives and potentially distorting educational decision making in schools. In this paper, I examine the balance between input and output regulation, considering how the current balance in Scotland impacts upon teacher agency, and especially the capacity of teachers to undertake school-based curriculum development.


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