Category Archives: 2.1 Curriculum

Could the Curriculum for Excellence be a ‘Sunk Cost’?

Could the Curriculum for Excellence be a ‘Sunk Cost’’?

The aim of Curriculum for excellence and the reason it was put in place was to help children and young people, across Scotland, gain knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life as well as the skills needed for learning and work (Education Scotland, 2018). The Curriculum for Excellence has been the framework for Scottish education for the past 8 years, and was created by government officials over a long period of time to give teachers more flexibility over what and how they teach (BBC, 2017). Although the government would argue that the Curriculum for Excellence has a purpose to create successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors, formally known as the 4 capacities, and further framework to create the seven principles, to ensure children’s learning is specified to them, many people would argue that it has many flaws. One of the arguments that is made is that the Curriculum for Excellence could in fact be widening the attainment gap, not closing it, therefore it is failing (BBC, 2017).

What is a ‘sunk cost’?

 A sunk cost is defined as something which has had a lot of time, money or effort put into it however if it starts to fail, those who have invested the time, money or effort, carry on with it as they don’t want it to appear wasteful (Arkes and Blumer, 1985).

Can this be what has happened with the Curriculum for Excellence?  

 For me what stands out the most from the arguments that have been highlighted about the flaws of Curriculum for Excellence is that it could in fact be widening the attainment gap and not closing it (BBC, 2017). Paterson (2018) makes this apparent when he highlights that Scotland use to be well ahead of the OECD (the programme for international student assessment) average however this has declined drastically. Paterson (2018) furthers this by summarising the results from the annual Scottish Survey of literacy and numeracy which show a fall in attainment in both of these curricular areas. This evidence then brings the realisation that the Curriculum for Excellence is not closing the attainment gap in this sense as attainment as a whole is falling from where it was before Curriculum for Excellence was introduced. Paterson (2018) then goes on to explain that on comparing the Curriculum for Excellence to other international educational structures, CfE can be seen to ‘neglect’ knowledge and focus more on skill. Hirsch (2016) furthers this and explains just how much knowledge matters. He does not dismiss the fact that skills do matter however shows the best way to gain skills is through gaining knowledge. Paterson (2018) goes on to highlight that schools provide the opportunity for children to gain knowledge who would not get it from home. Therefore, if schools stopped teaching structured knowledge, the inequality of knowledge will widen because the children of the well-educated and the wealthy will receive this structured knowledge in other ways. This then makes me indicates to me that curriculum for excellence can do better within this aspect and therefore makes me consider that is could in fact only be the start of its sunken cost.

On the other hand of this argument is that the Curriculum for Excellence is so deeply embedded, that removing it and creating something new would cause enormous upheaval. There would never be an easy way to change it and would mean that a whole generation would have been disadvantaged even more so within their education (Paterson, 2018). Therefore, meaning that the children of Scotland would be at an even bigger disadvantage within education if we were to move away from the Curriculum for Excellence compared to if we just stick to it and try and work on it.

Furthermore, looking at an opposing argument, the Scottish Government (2017) published information suggesting that those children because of Curriculum for Excellence are achieving within areas of reading, writing and numeracy. This then provides evidence that in fact the Curriculum for Excellence is providing the children of Scotland with a fairly good education however, it is the question of could it be better?

Overall, from my research I would say that arguably the Curriculum for Excellence is a sunk cost as it could be better. However, when looking at changing the whole education framework this is a very unrealistic approach as it would disrupt too much learn for very long period of time. The time, effort and money that would be spent creating a new framework, re-educating teachers would be significant. Having spent so much time, effort and money on the Curriculum for Excellence I feel we are in too deep now to change it. No child’s education should reduce due to a failing curriculum; therefore, I feel the best approach to this issue is that the Curriculum for Excellence is used as a very basic framework and we now begin to develop and work on the sections of it that are just not quite working.


BBC (2010) New curriculum could be ‘disastrous’, says education expert. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2018)

Education Scotland (2018) What is Curriculum for Excellence. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2018).

Arkes and Blumer (1985) The Psychology of sunk cost. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2018).

Paterson, L. (2018) Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: the betrayal of a whole generation.

 Hirsch, D.E. (2016) Why Knowledge Matters. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2018).

Scottish Government (2017) Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels 2016/2017. Available at:  (Accessed: 2 November 2018).

Can a raise in attainment within mathematics be created and maths anxiety destroyed?

Discovering maths has really opened my mind and has got me thinking about how I want to teach maths in my future classroom and what kind of teacher in maths I want to be.

After one of the discovering maths lectures it allowed me to begin to ask myself a series of questions around the way maths is perceived within schools and the way in which maths is taught. I now ask myself, can we raise attainment within maths, not by doing more maths but by doing different maths?

When I think back to my experience of maths in both primary and secondary school they are very similar – sitting at a desk, the teacher talking a new concept to you, you then completed some examples and then you were assessed on your understanding … or more like memory. Nothing ‘fun’, no enthusiasm or creativity presented. It was JUST maths.

Jo Boaler’s (2009) study has really begun to form a foundation to my thinking of my future teaching of mathematics. The study carried out was on 2 schools, Amber Hill which was a traditional school which followed set methods and procedures, distinct topics and closed mathematical problems and Phoenix Park which was a progressive school where there was a degree of choice, openness and mathematically rich experiences. From a series of assessments Amber Hill pupils performed worse than Phoenix Park. Amber Hill pupils had a broad understanding of facts, rules and procedures however they found them difficult to remember over time. Whereas Phoenix Park pupils were flexible and adaptable and they were able to see their knowledge in different situations.

Going back to my question of can we raise attainment within maths, not by doing more but by doing different maths, Amber Hill pupils had not learned any less maths than those at Phoenix Park, but different maths. Jo Boaler concluded from her study that transmitting mathematics is less helpful, which those at Amber Hill experienced, than classrooms where pupils are “apprenticed into a system of knowing, thinking and doing”(Boaler, 2009), which those at Phoenix Park experienced. Therefore, this has allowed me to reflect on the teaching of maths I have experienced and has really opened my eyes to some of the ‘could be’ causes of maths anxiety amongst both pupils and teachers.

Through Jo Boaler’s findings it has become apparent that Amber Hill pupils demonstrated instrumental understanding and Phoenix Park pupils demonstrated relational understanding(Skemp,1989). The best way to think about these concepts is that those pupils who demonstrated relational understandings are like a chef, if they are missing an ingredient to their recipe they know what they can use as a substitute to make what their making taste the same. Whereas those pupils who demonstrated an instrumental understanding are like recipe followers, meaning that if they are missing an ingredient they would have no idea what they could use as a substitute, therefore would be unable to complete the recipe. In a more mathematical example, mathematics is hidden in our everyday lives which some people are unaware of (Haylock, 2010, p13) such like telling the time, counting money, reading bus timetables as they forget that this is ‘maths’, therefore unconsciously allow themselves to overcome their confusion/fear of maths with no realisation that they are doing it, because it is relevant at that time. However, as soon as maths is disclosed, it causes fear and uncertainty across many (Haylock, 2014, p4). Therefore, again implying that when people have that basic understanding, know where maths can be used in their own lives and are able to use their knowledge in different situations, it begins to erase this maths anxiety (Haylock, 2014).

From this it has highlighted to me that we need to create ‘chefs’ within maths in schools, where pupils are enthused, engaged and enjoy maths because it should not just be about learning a concept, having to memorise it, just to get the answer correct when completing a test because asHaylock (2010, p5) goes on to describe, a lack of confidence within maths is formed from thinking you have to get the answer correct. This is where from the discovering maths lectures, already have got me thinking about how I can have an influence in reducing the fear and anxiety of maths amongst pupil. I am now aware that in the classrooms today we need to create an understanding, which allows for wrong answers and allows children to focus on the methods and thinking behind the answer (Hansen et al, 2017, p3) and move away from this ‘traditional’ maths and begin to teach ‘different’ maths.

Overall, I think maths anxiety can be destroyed within the younger generation and I believe that a raise in attainment within maths can be created by doing ‘different’ maths, other than just the traditional set methods and procedures, distinct topics and closed mathematical problems. I think that if we teach maths to create basic understandings where choice, openness and experiences are present and we create ‘chefs’ within the classroom, children will have a much better chance of having flexibility and adaptability within their learning, being able to transfer their knowledge to different situations, therefore meaning that when they do come across concepts/problems that are more difficult and that they haven’t seen before, the pupils can begin to look at them with a much more open mind set.


Boaler, J. (2009) The Elephant in the Classroom: Helping Children to Learn and Love Maths.  London: Souvenir Press Ltd.

Skemp, R. R. (1989) Mathematics in the Primary School. London: Routledge.

Hansen, A., Drews, D. and Dudgeon, J. (2017) Children’s Errors in Mathematics. 4thedn. London: Learning Matters

Haylock, D. (2010) Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. 4thedn. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Haylock, D. (2014) Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers. 5thedn. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.