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MSPs back life skills call

The knowledge arts promoted by Professor Perkins had an echo in the parliamentary scrutiny of the curriculum which, MSPs on the education committee heard, should do more to enhance pupils' "life skills".

These skills (also called "soft skills") such as problem-solving, team-working, enterprise and creativity could not be delivered via a subject-based curriculum "with its tick-box mentality", Margaret Doran, head of schools in Stirling Council, told the committee.

Teachers should be encouraged to take risks and work in more child-centred and creative ways, including the uses of team-teaching and formative assessment to provide meaningful evidence which would improve learning and teaching.

Ms Doran said that, while curricular flexibility is important, so also is "curricular coherence, which allows young people to make sense of what they are taught and to make connections across subjects."

The committee heard, for the second time in two weeks, a senior education figure call for the comprehensive system to be overhauled. Schools should be "comprehensive but different," Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire's director of education, said - a message conveyed earlier by Keir Bloomer, vice chair of Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Mr O'Neill said there should be an extension of the practice begun in his own authority of developing comprehensives offering all pupils specialist provision in music, sport and the arts. He contrasted this approach with the national schools for gifted youngsters in dance, sport, the performing arts and languages "where you have to distort the curriculum for a few talented individuals."

But Mr O'Neill acknowledged there were constraints preventing schools from moving forward, such as staffing "which reflect the conditions of the 1970s not those of 2004". Schools in the future should have a mix of teachers, coaches, further education lecturers and specialist support.

The most important new ingredient in the development of comprehensive schools, Mr O'Neill said, would be vocational education, which was crucial in making the curriculum more flexible.

But he warned the Executive, which is working on its strategy for forging stronger links between schools and FE colleges, that "if the future is going to be bussing thousands of young people to college up and down the country at 14 and 15, it won't work."

Mr O'Neill added: "When they come to make their subject choices, youngsters should have the traditional options like English, French and maths certainly, but they should also have other choices in school such as hairdressing, beauty therapy and construction. After 16, they can then go to college for specialist, high-level studies which schools cannot offer.

"If France, Germany and Spain can provide vocational courses as part of the school system, why can't we? We cannot say we have a comprehensive system otherwise."

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