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The balance is licence but not irresponsibility

Wendy Alexander, a member of the education committee, said it would be important for the future of curriculum reform to know what the impediments to change were.

Keir Bloomer replied: "We have put accountability before creativity, which has not engaged the profession's enthusiasm to make changes."

He proposed the creation of a "community of innovation" in Scottish education where there would be joint production of good practice. Any direction coming solely from the top would always be regarded with suspicion.

Mike Baughan, in his final public appearance as Learning and Teaching Scotland chief executive, said he was more confident than ever that a more flexible curriculum, backed by ministerial guidance and inspection, could become a reality. Local authorities and schools were already embarking on the process.

While he expressed optimism, Mr Baughan cautioned that "moving from a culture of compliance, which was driven by the inspection system of the time, to one of flexibility, which is seen as liberating, is not going to happen overnight."

He also drew the attention of MSPs to the conditions HMI will attach to a more flexible approach. Has there been consultation? Will innovations mean a better deal for pupils? Has the school an implementation plan? How will the changes be evaluated?

"So I believe we have got the balance right," Mr Baughan said. "Licence but not irresponsibility."

Mr Baughan and Mr Bloomer both warned against the "assessment obsession" in which the relaxation of age and stage restrictions on when exams could be taken was seen as the only flexibility that mattered. "Once everyone has sat their Highers in primary 4, what is there left to do?" Mr Bloomer quipped.

Mr Baughan criticised the move by East Renfrewshire to introduce primary 7 pupils to Intermediate level certification.

If that was all that happened, Mr Bloomer observed, it would be a "fairly sterile" use of the circular on flexibility, issued in 2001. He wanted schools to experiment with more personalised approaches to learning, and even review their own role which he anticipated would become one of acting as "a broker of learning provided by itself but by others as well".

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