Stop 'whingeing', critics warned

Does A Curriculum for Excellence ask too much of science teachers, or do they expect too much?

some teachers need to stop "recreational whingeing" and realise that there will be no step-by-step guidelines to A Curriculum for Excellence.

The warning came in a forceful message delivered to science teachers and technicians by Douglas Marr, a member of HM Inspec-torate of Education and former head in Aberdeenshire. He suggested that those teachers "becoming impatient for more detail" were missing the point of ACfE.

His views are in stark contrast to those of Peter Wright, vice-president elect of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, who expresses concerns in this week's TESS that a "content-free" science curriculum could see secondary schools "sleepwalk into disaster".

Mr Marr, speaking at last week's annual conference of the Associa-tion for Science Education Scotland, said: "The detailed guidance some people are looking for is not going to emerge; the outcomes will be in these general 'I can' terms.

"A Curriculum for Excellence is not a one-off, not an all-time fix that establishes an aim for life," he said. Instead, it was a "first step"

towards several benefits. "We know that (it) will thin down content, simplify assessment, provide better outcomes and suggest appropriate learning experiences."

Mr Marr believes there has to be a concerted effort among those who are positive about curriculum change to counter "recreational whingeing". He was concerned that some teachers had held on to the 5-14 "security blanket".

He said there would be "considerable scope" for teachers to customise the science curriculum. He gave the example of nuclear power stations, which had environmental, moral and political significance, and could be approached by teachers in a number of ways.

Mr Marr also warned that attempts to focus young minds on the environment could be counter-productive because these issues were being "done to death"

in an unco-ordinated way. "Many pupils may have a burning passion for saving the whale, but that does not extend to something they could do something about, such as putting litter in the bin."

Meanwhile Mr Wright of the SSTA warns of a "lack of genuine engagement"

with classroom secondary teachers, and the potential undermining of traditional subjects. He believes there are some advantages if imminent science proposals are "content-free" and focused on pupils' achievement in terms of ACfE's four capacities. But he stresses that the implications have to be considered in light of many secondary teachers being in their mid-50s, the GTCS having made it easier to cross subject boundaries, and varied levels of support for schools across Scotland's 32 local authorities.

"In this radically different context (compared to 20 years ago), the concept of a content-free secondary curriculum is likely to be dangerously seductive, especially in those local authorities which experience financial cuts and in schools with staffing difficulties," says Mr Wright.

He says there has to be discussion about curriculum content before subjects are "condemned to oblivion". Without such a debate, "secondary schools may sleepwalk their way into a curriculum disaster which may be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse".

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