A curriculum for all

14th November 2003 at 00:00
I welcome Douglas Osler's piece on the reform of the school curriculum (TESS, October 31), but I would point out that it failed to include, other than incidentally, a critique of the 5-14 curriculum. Perhaps this deficiency will be made good in future contributions by the former senior chief inspector.

My view of the 5-14 initiative is that it was never accepted in any kind of wholehearted way by the secondary schools. Within a very short period after its inception, it had become a 5-12 curriculum. Secondary teachers, by and large, insisted on the "fresh start" approach.

Now it can be argued that the secondary sector was justified in taking this approach, given that 5-14 was untried, given the perceived inconsistency in the national test results coming from different associated primary schools, given also the mounting pressure of the examination-orientated upper secondary curriculum on the S1 and S2 years.

However, the end result of all this is a thoroughly unsatisfactory S1 and S2 curriculum. Mr Osler's solution involves, inter alia, a new 10-16 curriculum, divided into core subjects, additional modules to be completed before a pupil leaves school and an elective area, related to local circumstances, employment opportunities and pupils' individual needs.

Progress in the core subjects would be monitored and recorded, from P1 to the end of schooling, presumably through the use of some kind of objective, standardised national testing. The additional modules and the elective subjects could presumably be internally assessed, thus reducing the incidence of national testing and so dealing with some of the issues covered in the article by Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, in the same edition. So far, so good.

There would still be a worry, however, that age 10 would become the new problem threshold or cusp in such a new system, especially if separate educational institutions, with historically quite different approaches to curriculum, assessment and "child-centredness", were responsible for 10-12 and 12-16 respectively.

I wonder, therefore, if Mr Osler would care to address in particular, in a future article, the nature of the curriculum at 5-10 and how pupil progress within it would be assessed and recorded. His comment that the Munn report had a dubious rationale is, in the light of experience over the best part of 30 years, a fair one, but James Munn and colleagues did not have a remit to examine the curriculum in primary education or even in the S1-S2 years, though they delivered some incidental comments on these areas.

There may be a need now for a new report on the whole school curriculum, 5-18, providing an updated and, I would hope, seamless rationale for the whole school experience.The absence of such an agreed rationale underlies many of the current problems in Scottish education.

Fred Forrester

North Larches


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