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Editor's comment

You cannot blame teachers for being confused. The HMIE report on curriculum flexibility in primary schools may make them wonder whether official thinking is perhaps a bit too flexible. On the one hand, schools are being urged to be innovative and flexible in their thinking and practice; on the other, there is apparent praise for those who are "sensibly cautious" about doing anything too radical.

Teachers, if the annual conference of the secondary heads last week is anything to go by, will note HMIE's plaudits for less prescriptive approaches to primary teaching, but point out that the inspectorate's "attainment is all" philosophy is what operates on the ground to militate against the very innovation it is supposed to be encouraging.

And there's more in similar vein. Another HMIE report, on the teaching of history in secondary schools, comments that " a coherent experience" for pupils is handicapped by devolving choice of themes and content to primaries and to the S1-2 stages - flexibility by any other name. It is hardly surprising that schools and education authorities are "unsure" how to deal with curriculum flexibility when such mixed messages are coming from on high.

In this context, it is noteworthy that one of the headteachers involved in West Dunbartonshire's highly successful literacy drive (p4-5) believes the key ingredient in its success is a strong structure which ensures that every school is working in the same way, the opposite of flexibility or autonomy. "It is as if they have a common language," she comments. That is exactly what is lacking in the dialogue between inspectors and schools. Next Easter's conference on curriculum flexibility will not be before time.

Neil Munro.

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