Education Secretary John Swinney has told teachers he does not want a year-long review into the Scottish curriculum to become a “distraction”.
An independent inquiry will investigate the Curriculum for Excellence following concerns about education performance and results, as well as the choice of subjects available to pupils.
The Scottish Government opposed a review but was defeated in Parliament by a majority of MSPs who voted in favour of a wide-ranging investigation.
Speaking at a school in Edinburgh, Mr Swinney said he expects the inquiry to last until February 2021 and told teachers he does not want it to be “a distraction or create uncertainty in the system”.
He said: “We need to stick with our current agenda of excellence and equity, and deepen and embed progress.”
Explaining the length of time the review is expected to take, Mr Swinney said: “The OECD do their job properly, they will give us their view and we’ll look very carefully at that.
“I think it’s crucial that we give them the time and the space to do that because they have to be able to get an understanding of what’s actually going on within Scottish education and there will be a broad range of different factors they will have to look at.”
Mr Swinney said he was now “delighted” the review was happening and remained confident the Curriculum for Excellence was “on the right track”.
He used his speech at Wester Hailes Education Centre to announce the remit of the review, revealing it would look at the design of the curriculum, the transition into the senior phase, the flexibility schools have and whether vocational courses are being regarded as highly as academic subjects.
It will also look at the “depth and breadth of learning in the senior phase”, which is a key area of concern from many opposition MSPs who argue pupils are increasingly restricted on the number of subjects they can study.
Describing Curriculum for Excellence as “the correct reform and the correct approach”, Mr Swinney added it has “all of the foundations correct to equip young people with the capacities and the attributes and the skills to deal with an ever-changing world in the 21st Century”.
The event in Edinburgh marked five years of the Scottish Attainment Challenge, with Mr Swinney welcoming recent figures showing an increase in pupils achieving at least five Higher passes and 95% of school leavers getting a job, going into training or continuing in education.
New figures released this week suggest attainment is falling, however, while the attainment gap between the poorest pupils and others is increasing.
The statistics show attainment has fallen in all but 10 of the 42 subjects, with some subjects experiencing up to a 10% decrease.
Mr Swinney attributed the fall in performance to “volatility” and said he would be accused of making exams easier if results showed continuous improvement.
“I want to reaffirm that closing the poverty-related attainment gap is the defining mission of this Government,” Mr Swinney said.
“I am proud of the progress being made and, without reservation, I reaffirm that driving mission today.”
Responding to the Deputy First Minister’s speech, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray criticised the “Government’s failure to fund schools properly and support teachers effectively”.
He said: “Rather than facing up to the problems in schools and the failures of the SNP Government to close the attainment gap, there was the usual thin-skinned, defensive spin and denial.
“Despite John Swinney’s bluster, new figures this week show attainment falling and the attainment gap widening, not narrowing.
“If this arrogant SNP Government truly wishes to close the attainment gap, John Swinney will have to swallow his pride and put the future of Scotland’s children before his public image.”
Jamie Greene, the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesman, said: “Despite the very best efforts of teachers and education staff, parents across Scotland know that Scottish education sadly is no longer the gold standard it once was.
“Whilst the scope and nature of the review is welcome, we are concerned that we will have to wait yet another year to get to the bottom of these problems which will provide little comfort to pupils who are already studying for exams.”