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A lighter touch on the tiller

Schools could be forgiven some frustration with the people who are in charge of their curriculum revolution (pages one, four and five). After all, policy-makers should be making policy and giving a lead. The Scottish education "tanker" may take some time to turn around, but surely this is snail's pace reform? One can only imagine what the reaction might be, however, if the opposite was happening and the speed of change colleges are more used to was being imposed on schools.

What is actually happening is a subtle and ambitious initiative, or set of initiatives. It is also complex. Teachers who expect, as someone once put it, to be given a document which will tell them what they are supposed to be teaching first thing on Monday morning, will be disappointed - although, hopefully, dinosaurs are a thing of the past. Instead, there is an attempt to weave some delicate threads which will knit together policy from the top and practice from the bottom.

There is a good reason for this: policy-makers got their fingers badly burnt over the implementation of the 5-14 and Higher Still reforms which backfired when the dirigiste approach accompanying them proved to be a reform or two too far. The culture which ensued in schools where teachers were expected to respond to micro-management of their teaching, backed by inspection, gave reform a bad name. That is why the Scottish Executive is now attempting to steer the tanker with a lighter touch on the tiller.

What has to happen now is that this policy-making approach is replicated in schools so that, as the curriculum reformers prepare to put their faith in the profession as a whole, the leadership in schools must put its faith in the classroom teacher. Set the parameters but provide the space for teaching - that must be the goal.

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