'A nightmare to read and a nightmare to use'

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Key member of the committee behind reform wants clearer vocabulary for change

A damning critique of the language describing the new curriculum has come from one of the people charged with getting the message across.

David Cameron, a member of the communications committee behind the Curriculum for Excellence, says its key documents should be rewritten to make them clearer.

The strategy documents, Building the Curriculum 3, 4 and 5, were not only too "dense" but "a nightmare to read and a nightmare to use", he told a conference for members of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association in senior management.

"One of the biggest problems is the vocabulary around Curriculum for Excellence," said Mr Cameron, former director of children's services at Stirling Council and a past president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

Building the Curriculum 5, published earlier this year to provide a framework for assessment, "said nothing that was not already in the 5-14 assessment document", he said.

Building the Curriculum 4, on "skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work", was "dense" and did not even provide a "definition of skills". And Building the Curriculum 3, billed as "a framework for learning and teaching", was "not a document which teachers can use to change their practice", he claimed.

Much of what teachers needed to know about assessment from BtC5 could be summarised on a single sheet of A4, Mr Cameron suggested. Teachers needed to know: what they could keep on doing; what they needed to change; and what steps they needed to take to make that change, he told the SSTA seminar at Stirling last week.

Mr Cameron said he had found "hardly anyone" in Scotland who had read the three documents. They were written in a particular way for "ideological reasons", which made them difficult to decode.

"We need to deconstruct them and rebuild them more simply," he said. "We need to focus on the differences: what makes the difference between the performance expected at early level and when pupils get to Level 4 - if they do."

Teachers had to discover what were the learning deficits and strengths of pupils when they entered secondary, so they could address their weaknesses and build on their strengths, rather than running through "a mass of tick- boxes", he added.

But, as the heat rises over whether reforms should be delayed, Mr Cameron sought to reassure secondary teachers that they were better prepared to implement CfE in August than they realised.

"You can teach the CfE with the resources you already had," he declared. "We deforested most of northern Europe to provide the resources for Higher Still but didn't achieve a significant increase in attainment - it's about the teachers.

"We spend too much time asking teachers to provide forward plans - that has to do with covering your back and accountability. Asking teachers to spend time on resources and preparation has distracted them from their professional skills, which is about understanding the needs of learners and brokering between that and what needs to be learnt."

Mr Cameron called on HMIE to be more vocal about what it wanted to see, and the Scottish Qualifications Authority to give an early indication of its assessment plans.



Secondary teachers are being asked to complete two surveys about the Curriculum for Excellence - one issued to all schools by the CfE management board, accompanied by a letter from Colin MacLean, the Scottish Government's director of learning, which asks whether teachers need additional support; the other issued by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, whose council voted two weeks ago to delay implementation of CfE until secondary teachers were better prepared and resourced.

The SSTA survey of its members is still being described as a bilateral survey with the Scottish Government, but Ann Ballinger, SSTA general secretary, cast doubt on government officials' wholehearted backing for it.

"On paper, it is a bilateral survey, but it is fair to say that the focus has switched from a bilateral survey to an SSTA survey," she said. "Civil servants have not asked for feedback from our survey, although I am sure the Education Secretary will be interested in what we have to say."

Original paper headline:Curriculum critique: `a nightmare to read and a nightmare to use'

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