The DIY curriculum

ALL 3,500 teachers in North Lanarkshire are to be trained in the latest learning techniques over the next three to four years, in one of the most ambitious and dramatic staff development programmes ever seen in Scotland.

Michael O'Neill, the council's director of education, unveiled the initiative in a speech to a curriculum conference last week. It is part of a wider package intended to take the authority into a second phase of its drive towards "raising achievement for all".

Mr O'Neill said force-feeding uninterested pupils was no longer tenable. They should be allowed to opt into studies of their choice with all the implications that involved. The result would be improved motivation, esteem and attainment.

Mr O'Neill, whose authority carries considerable clout since it contains the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency of Jack McConnell, the First Minister, said if such steps are not taken "we will still be sitting here having the same discussions in 10 years' time".

The initiative was guardedly welcomed by the Educational Institute of Scotland. Drew Morrice, its North Lanarkshire secretary, said: "If this is about thinking about the processes of learning and a move away from assessment and targets, which is about measuring learning, we would support that."

But Mr Morrice cautioned that there is no single panacea for improving learning. "Many teachers will have developed their own techniques and practices. These should not be jettisoned in favour of one approach."

North Lanarkshire's record was described as "inspirational" at the conference, organised by the Learning Unlimited consultancy.

The starting point for the authority's staff development programme is that pupils need to acquire new skills and knowledge, both in the sense of learning new things and learning in new ways - and teachers have to be prepared to help.

The council's plans will kick off with a summer academy in the first week in August where trainers from Canada will introduce the latest techniques in brain-based learning, thinking skills, mind-mapping and accelerated learning. Known as "co-operative learning", the package aims to encourage students to work together "to maximise their own and each others' learning".

Teachers will be expected to encourage pupils to become more active in their learning, working with others and promoting each other's learning - rather than striving for success which "depends on others' failure". The mantra is that "processes of learning become as important as the product".

Primary heads and advisers have had introductory sessions and were said to have been won over. Teachers will apply the techniques to their own subjects, and the training will contribute to evidence of their continuing professional development which will become a contractual part of their duties from August.

SOUL SEVEN

The conference heard John MacBeath, former head of the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University, call for a radical shift of emphasis in the school curriculum.

Professor MacBeath, who holds the chair of educational leadership at Cambridge University, commended Norway's approach to the "human curriculum" built around the notion of seven human beings who are spiritual, creative, working, liberally educated, social, environmentally aware and "integrated".

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