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Put your mind to thinking skills

JACK McConnell has been advised to don his ministerial thinking cap and back the emergence of classroom thinking skills before the movement fizzles out.

Teachers have responded to the growth of thinking skills and their positive effect on attainment but rapidly need national support to make further progress, Carolyn Yates, a Castle Douglas-based consultant on cognitive acceleration programmes, warned this week at a conference in Dunblane.

The Education Minister had to act to consolidate existing developments and allow for expansion across the curriculum, she said. Accelerated programmes, involving aspects such as problem-solving, have taken off in science and are reputed to bring academic benefits across subjects. Teachers introduce special sessions perhaps once a fortnight.

Ms Yates cautioned: "There's enough goodwill from teachers to make a top-level policy of worth. Otherwise, over the next two years, thinking skills will fizzle out. We need a structure that allows councils and headteachers to say this is a priority area for development. At the moment, it is not explicit enough."

Sam Galbraith, the former minister, had supported a Scottish Executive conference on thinking skills and HMI had uderlined their value in 5-14 science teaching but there had been no further policy follow-up, Ms Yates said.

Professor Carol McGuiness, Queen's University, Belfast, and lead researcher in Britain, added: "To sustain and invigorate the curriculum using these approaches, this has to be on the national agenda, otherwise it will die."

In Northern Ireland, she said, a review of the curriculum has emphasised the importance of thinking skills in primaries and secondaries, while, in England, 17 authorities are launching pilots on ways to develop thinking skills for 11 14 year-olds beyond maths and science.

Professor McGuiness, who advises the Department for Education and Employment in England, continued: "Teachers are buying into this and really are saying that this is what our work was all about before we got distracted by testing and other developments. It does bring back a focus on teaching and learning."

Ms Yates said individual Scottish teachers were working on initiatives but had yet to be pulled together to give the movement more force. Five authorities in the east of Scotland, co-ordinated by Edinburgh, were blazing a trail in setting up a training network for cognitive acceleration.

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