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Curriculum for change in education: lessons for librarians from devolved governments



Sarah Pavey
Sarah Pavey

Sarah Pavey, Schools Representative for the Information Literacy Group, considers recent curriculum reforms in Scotland and Wales and their implications for information literacy and for school librarians.


The current COVID-19 pandemic has perhaps spurred some education bodies to reflect on the efficiency of their curricula and the intended learning outcomes. The necessary replacement of formal examinations with teacher assessment has hastened this change in some cases as new ways of teaching and learning are adopted. Is this good news for information literacy? Yes! Is it good news for school librarians? That is more of a moot point.

The English education system has been panned by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for being too focussed on rote learning (Schleicher, 2019), and perhaps this has prompted Scotland and Wales to look again at their education offer. Certainly, the new approaches from these two countries seem modelled on the International Baccalaureate structure, which has known benefits for preparing students for the demands of higher education (IBSCA, 2018), and it could be argued it supports competencies required by the modern workplace too.

Scotland introduced the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) in 2010. This centres on four capacities to enable each student to be: a successful learner; a confident individual; a responsible citizen; and an effective contributor. These are then applied to eight broad areas of the curriculum: Expressive Arts; Health and Wellbeing; Languages; Mathematics; Religious and Moral Education; Sciences; Social Studies; and Technologies. The idea was to place more emphasis on independent learning, curiosity, and many aspects that we would accept as components of information literacy. However, the recent OECD report (2021) criticised CfE as still seemingly having mismatches between the vision and some of CfE’s building blocks. CfE has been described as a “clash between 19th century assessment and 21st century curriculum”. Nonetheless, CfE is felt to offer an inspirational vision for its bold, future-oriented approach. It has served as an example to many other countries, and its key message strongly resembles the global vision on education as expressed in the Education 2030 vision of the OECD (the Learning Compass).

The public examinations fiasco arising from the pandemic has now led to Scotland taking another bold step and taking on board the criticisms surrounding assessment. Acting on the OECD recommendations, Scottish Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville made the announcement that the Scottish Qualifications Authority would be scrapped, and that all assessments made by the body responsible for the Curriculum, Education Scotland, would be substantially reformed (Scottish Government, 2021).

So, what does this mean for school libraries and their librarians? On the face of it, it would appear a golden opportunity to create cross curricular support for information literacy competencies. Certainly, this was hinted at in the publication “Vibrant libraries, thriving schools” (Scottish Government, 2018) as part of a National Strategy. Through this initiative Education Scotland set up a Professional Learning Community for School Libraries. Unfortunately, within the National Curriculum Communities, setting school librarians on a par with teaching staff, the only mention of the librarian is within the literacy strand and teaching of English. School libraries are listed more specifically under “other National Professional Learning Communities”.

So how will the reforms help redress the balance and establish the cross curricular role of the library in support of the assessment criteria and the emphasis on 21st Century skills which align so well with information literacy principles? Will teaching and assessment of these skills fall to teachers and, if so, will school librarians survive? Rumour suggests the hard fought and ultimately successful campaign, to have libraries included in Scottish school inspections may fall by the wayside again once Education Scotland is reformed, offering little hope for raising cross-curricular profiles.

Wales too has announced a curriculum reform very much along the lines of the Scottish model (Education Wales, 2020). Here the core competencies are listed as: ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives; enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work; ethical, informed citizens who are ready to take part in Wales and the world; and healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society. These will be taught across six curriculum areas: Expressive Arts; Health and Wellbeing; Humanities; Languages, Literacy and Communication; Mathematics and Numeracy; and Science and Technology. This will all be underpinned by literacy, numeracy and digital skills, and incorporating creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, personal effectiveness and planning and organization. Again, this looks an interesting development that should enable school librarians to offer cross-curricular support to boost information literacy competencies. However, within this new exciting Welsh Curriculum, there is no mention of the role of a librarian and no mention of a library aside from a suggestion that a visit to a public library might be useful as an external learning experience! Despite its promise of creativity, critical thinking and digital skills, this is all focused on personal evaluation and opinion, personal safety online and operating technical devices. Brave words but sadly rooted in the same old curriculum principles. This sets the new Welsh Curriculum apart from the CfE in Scotland. The Welsh Government claim there will be reform too of formal examinations that will look “very different”. Maybe there will be a move back to some kind of continuous assessment, but it is unlikely to be underpinning what we understand as information literacy skills.

Is it all doom and gloom? No there are opportunities here if we grasp them. The overarching core competencies align with the information literacy definition to develop 21st century global citizens and, if we can accept the Scottish reforms are one step towards a more internationally accepted way of pedagogy, then maybe hope is on the horizon. We need to seize these fragments and show how information professionals within our schools can support both students and staff to attain the aspirations of these new curricula. Perhaps if we are successful with our devolved nations, if and when the curriculum in England is reformed, the battle will have already been won.


Education Wales (2020) Curriculum for Wales guidance. Available at:  https://hwb.gov.wales/storage/b44ad45b-ff78-430a-9423-36feb86aaf7e/curriculum-for-wales-guidance.pdf

IBSCA (2018) The University Admissions Officers Report 2017. Available at: https://www.ibsca.org.uk/university-admissions-officers-report-2017/

OECD (2021) Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the future. Available at:  https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/bf624417-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/bf624417-en

Schleicher, A. (2019) PISA 2018: Insights and interpretations. Available at:  https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf

Scottish Government (2021) Reform of the SQA and Education Scotland: advisor draft remit. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/advisor-on-the-reform-of-sqa-and-education-scotland-draft-remit/

Scottish Government. (2018) Vibrant libraries, thriving schools: A National strategy for school libraries in Scotland 2018–2023. Available at: https://scottishlibraries.org/media/2108/vibrant-libraries-thriving-schools.pdf

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