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The curriculum of confidence tricks

The national debate on Scottish education that took place in 2003 rubber-stamped what was happening and created the illusion that a robust system was on a journey of continuous improvement. It was largely an exercise in contrived collegiality.

The debate highlighted the fact that Scotland has the most over-assessed education system in Europe but, rather than do something really radical about it, HMIE came up with A Curriculum for Excellence and How Good Is Our School: The Journey To Excellence (parts 1, 2 and 3).

There is some recognition in all this that the creative element is missing in our schools, but it has to be found along with all of the assessments that we still have to deliver. And teach, too. And correct; correct continuously.

Teachers would love to teach "excellently", but this cannot be done in an overloaded week that already takes them more than their contractually-agreed 35 hours to complete.

It is not possible to deliver the education system as we have it now AND create a curriculum for excellence that has more flair.

It is a sad feature of Scottish education that there is no underpinning philosophical dimension to it. Neither A Curriculum for Excellence nor HGIOS 3 possesses any. Both are nebulous, platitudinous and far removed from any hint of a democratic intellect.

However, there is an attempt to compensate by having a fake numerical element that appears to give the two documents some exactitude. But why only four capacities, and why not a fifth called "critical thinking"? Why only three self-evaluation questions? Why six indicators? How come nine key areas? And how on earth do we arrive at 10 dimensions of excellence?

This lack of intellectual rigour is by design. The reason is because education today serves the interests of business. This is why we have quality assurance, targets, league tables, monitoring, quality indicators, tracking, the obsession with leadership and management, privatisation of buildings and services, and a language which is now remarkably similar to that of the private sector.

To redress this somewhat, A Curriculum for Excellence spins the notion that our schools are places of creativity and not just factories of testing. This factory system seeks to prevail, though, because the business world wants students well-trained in meeting the demands of the new workplace. And where better to get them acquainted with such practices than in school?

It should be exactly the opposite. In a world bedevilled by war, climate change, hunger and ever-growing inequality, many of our youngsters are locked into a consumerist ontology that says: "I want, therefore I should get." Being means having today and this is exactly how the market-place wants them to think.

Education has to address this. Creating a genuinely excellent curriculum that looks at the whole world and not just the world of Mammon is urgently required.

To create a real curriculum for excellence or a curriculum of confidence tricks? That is the question.

Jim Aitken teaches in Edinburgh.

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