The strength of CfE is that it makes values paramount

Looking both forward and back, the curriculum has the potential to change schools for the better

Ben Davis

Recent editions of TESS have published criticism of Curriculum for Excellence that asserted the primacy of the subjects as the rightful basis of the secondary curriculum. They opined that the curriculum's underlying principles were superficial; proclaimed the pre-eminence of the transmission of knowledge; and portrayed it as the plaything of the establishment.

A blanket dissatisfaction with the status quo is what got us Curriculum for Excellence. The curriculum now attempts to reconnect learning with daily life and assuage a profound impulse for personal fulfilment: to bring formal education into the modern world as part of it, not a separate sphere.

Scepticism and discomfort are to be expected, as these aims demand an immense change far beyond the scope of earlier reforms. This is a transformation of mind, of role, of relationship, that is global as much as local and it long ago passed from its originators into the stewardship of teachers. It is a challenge of autonomy and greater responsibility. Do we lack the skills to cope? Of course not. To suggest otherwise is to diminish the profession.

The new curriculum is both innovative and familiar; like Janus, it looks forward and back. However, it distinguishes itself from previous changes in one vital aspect: its values are manifest. The past year should remind us how much in need we are of a shared morality that is at once ancient, immutable and popular.

The four capacities, the responsibilities of all and interdisciplinary learning are not conceits. They illustrate the scale of change and are important conduits through which values can cultivate new practice. Far from being "cavalier", Curriculum for Excellence is courageous in its purpose and ethical framework, recognising that without core values knowledge and skill alone cannot reward us with either excellence or meaningful standards. The best independent schools have lived out this happy integration for years.

Here, then, is a pretext for cheer, however vexatious the detail of new exam specifications. Awarding subjects dominion to compartmentalise knowledge and experience, casting teachers as mere instruments of inculcation, gives us the factory, the treadmill: a muted experience. But knowledge changes - there is always more of it to come. Values do not. Instead, they allow us to make sense of our skills and apply our knowledge.

With courageous leadership and values at the heart of the curriculum, the many talented, pragmatic and creative Scottish teachers have the potential to make school what it should be: an education.

Ben Davis is acting head at St Joseph's Academy, Kilmarnock.

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