Don't let the bastards grind you down

You may have read Building the Curriculum 3

You may have read Building the Curriculum 3. If you haven't, don't bother. A word sums up the content - nebulous. Did I say content? That is a misnomer. The cover models the buzz phrases of responsible citizens, effective contributors, successful learners and confident individuals, so it looked promising enough when I took it home to read.

I sat down with an open mind. This positive demeanour was swiftly dissipated as I realised that the document contains page after page of civil servant rhetoric. Take the section on "Entitlements for all children and young people". I read with interest that "all young people in Scotland have an entitlement to a senior phase of education which, for example, prepares them well for achieving qualifications to the highest level of which they are capable".

For as long as I have been teaching, I have tried to do that. The problem we face is that money has never been so tight. Authorities are struggling as never before to put adequate per capita into schools.

And that is why I smile wryly when I read some of the reflective questions scattered throughout. Take the following: "What are the planning and delivery implications of providing young people with opportunities and support to stay in learning after 16?" It doesn't take a big brain to work out that there are financial implications here too.

Then there's a plethora of statements which assert little or nothing. I gave up counting when they slid into double figures, and that's being charitable. Take this: "The principles of curriculum design apply at all stages of learning with different emphases at different stages." I wonder if we have abandoned meaningful statements regarding educational policies for an epidemic of fatigued jargon. Do we need to be told that it is teachers' professional judgment which will assess the readiness of young people to progress to the next stage of learning? Was it ever anything else?

Another disturbing element of the document is the way it trots out facile statements without any suggestion as to how these ideas might be implemented, financially or organisationally. Taking qualifications in the senior school could vary from fast track to two years. How would that work in practice? Some subjects are already taught in bi-level classes. Might they become multi-levelled?

At the moment, I have a bi-level philosophy class of 30 students who at least will sit the exam during the 2009 diet. Imagine if they were all taking the exam at different times. A nightmare! In any case, staffing levels are nearly always determined by economics rather than good educational reasons.

The last sentence in the booklet wins the prize for inanity. "It is now for establishments and partners at all levels in the system to consider and reflect on the framework set out here and to consider how, individually and in partnership, they can begin to adopt more fully the values, purposes and principles of A Curriculum for Excellence."

I say this whole process needs a Lazarus-style miracle to kick it into life. Meanwhile, nil carborundum illegitimi!

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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