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National starter makes us hungry for more

Where me keys, where me phone?" is the catchphrase of the moment, thanks to a certain Manchester rapper on Britain's Got Talent. Perhaps that should read "Where me checklist, where me `how to' kit?" for teachers north of the border.

It doesn't have quite the same ring as the rap from the ITV talent show, or scan so well, but it's a recurrent line in today's News Focus on responses to the final documents for the National courses, published last week.

Content and information on all 197 courses have been available for 10 days now and teachers have had time to peruse them. We visited a secondary school in West Dunbartonshire to find out what they thought of them (pages 12-15). It will come as no surprise that every teacher we spoke to had a different view.

These ranged from excitement about new approaches to computing to dismay about recycled topics in modern languages. Several were disappointed they didn't get detailed checklists and guidance, while others were enthused about specific units, ideas or video clips. There's a real sense of glasses being half empty or half full, depending on personalities. Yet running through them is the view that this is a start; we want some more. And they will see more, now the SQA has announced that further examples will be published in the coming months, curriculum events will be organised across the country and specimen exam papers will be available early next year.

It's too soon to predict whether these "final" documents, as the current ones are called, will succeed in allaying people's fears. How much they do will be a reflection of how well the SQA has done its job. Clydebank High has "embraced" Curriculum for Excellence, we're told, so if its staff are seeking further reassurance, there will be others who remain much more anxious.

There doesn't appear to be any great alarm about the course content and exemplars - some of it was familiar from earlier drafts - but there are precise concerns about, for example, nuclear chemistry being in National 5, and wider issues concerning the history syllabus. Neil McLennan, president of the Scottish Association of Teachers of History elaborates on the latter in our Comment section (page 35).

The teachers involved in the design of the new courses extol some of the virtues they believe the new Nationals will deliver (page 12): skills that relate to real life and match what employers want; more hands-on learning; less spoon-feeding and more autonomy for pupils. That greater freedom should apply to their teachers as well, but after years of conditioning it will be more difficult and take longer for some of them to make that transition. In the meantime, "where me keys, where me checklist?".

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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