A capacity to challenge

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Ian Smith is founder of Learning Unlimited

According to A Curriculum for Excellence, people who are "effective contributors" are essentially doers. They take the initiative, they solve problems, they are enterprising, they create and develop, they are self-reliant but they can also work in teams.

Can't we all agree that Scotland would be a more prosperous, happier country if we had more people like this? But here, political correctness is at its most strident.

The list of qualities above does not adequately describe the range of contributions different people need to play in society. Imagine being shut in a room for a week with a group of "effective contributors" bulging with enterprise, creativity, self-reliance and leadership. I bet it wouldn't be a particularly happy place and not much would get done. In reality, we need people to follow as well as to lead.

In the run-up to Christmas, who is contributing most effectively? Santa or Scrooge? Those who spend or save? The 130,000 children homeless this Christmas or the London dealers who will share pound;8 billion in bonuses this Christmas? The Farepak families from the 30 per cent in our society who own nothing, or Farepak's owner who is reputed to be worth pound;75 million?

People who have all the qualities above use them to exploit people less astute than themselves, to rob banks and even to train terrorists. This is where language which is far from correct can lead us, especially if we don't seriously debate with young people what kind of society we want and how we can achieve it.

Citizenship classes became compulsory south of the border in 2002, and the Government's aim is to increase the numbers of citizenship teachers over two years.

Yet the Ofsted inspectorate says many schools are hopeless at teaching citizenship. It is the poor relation of more established subjects, but requires teachers to be highly skilled and able to deal with difficult issues. The situation is different in Scotland but Ofsted's point is equally relevant here.

We need pupils to experience being citizens in their schools. But how can we make this happen? Ah ha, I hear you say, this is just what ACfE is all about. A thousand curriculum initiatives will bloom, transforming both methodology and content.

Those who are worried about radical change can relax. Excellent continuing professional development programmes, that promote collaborative learning and joined-up approaches as a way of delivering the existing curriculum more effectively, are making some headway. But, as far as content is concerned, the best it seems we can hope for is that there will be more opportunities to fiddle at the edges of the existing secondary curriculum.

I see no evidence of a will among politicians or the educational establishment to have them really affect the mainstream curriculum in secondary schools.

But the biggest issue is the way schools are run. How can you learn what it means to be an effective contributor in a democratic society in organisations which are fundamentally undemocratic? How can we make schools more democratic? Who in the educational establishment and the teaching profession actually want them to be?

How powerful and difficult these capacities could be if we, as educators, had the courage to use them to promote genuine debate. But when we duck such a debate, the politicians decide that, if current secondary schooling doesn't help many young people to become more effective contributors, then we should give them more - raise the school-leaving age to 18.

Enough said.

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