A thread must run through it

25th January 2008 at 00:00
More and more schools are looking at cross-curricular collaboration. But can it work? Elizabeth Buie reports.

The head of history at one of Scotland's leading state schools has questioned whether there is room in the curriculum to teach more Scottish history, as Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, wants.

Jim McGonigle, principal history teacher in Hermitage Academy, Helensburgh, said: "There is the difficulty that there is a lot of Scots history and we won't get a lot more time to cover it, so we need to avoid the 'one size fits all' approach.

"We need a theme so it can all hang together, such as the political, social or economic identity of Scotland. It's important to have a thread running through it."

Duncan Toms, principal teacher of history at Bearsden Academy, agreed that time is not on the side of schools as they struggle to teach Scottish history "within an overall balance of local, Scottish, British, European and world history". Coverage remains "patchy".

New draft guidelines on social studies, published this week by Learning and Teaching Scotland, will require pupils to "develop an understanding of how Scotland has developed, resulting in an appreciation of local and national heritage within the global community".

But this is only one of eight "experiences and outcomes" proposed for social studies, which also gives more room for manoeuvre in teaching - a flexibility which teachers of history, geography and modern studies have broadly welcomed.

Ms Hyslop said last November: "It is vital that Scottish history plays a more prominent role in our schools - not as an optional extra, but as an essential part of learning about our world."

This followed a Scottish Qualifications Authority decision to make Scottish history a mandatory part of the Higher exam from 2010-11.

But an HMIE report on history, published at the same time, said the freedom given to primary schools and in S1-2 courses - which A Curriculum for Excellence is pledged to extend further - means that "a balanced and coherent experience for pupils ... is far from guaranteed ... there is no certainty that pupils' engagement with history will allow them to build a sense of how Scotland's past has developed."

The latest "experiences and outcomes" from the curriculum reformers appear to reinforce this flexibility, leaving important questions unanswered - not just the place of history. Teachers' concerns centre on how the new format will fit with whatever replaces Standard grade and Intermediate 1 and 2 courses, currently being reviewed by the Government.

The inclusion of financial education, business studies and economics in the social studies melting pot will make that area of the curriculum even more crowded.

But there is scope for positive change. Jim McGonigle says the draft guidelines should allow for more cross-curricular collaboration.

Melanie Shepley, principal teacher of modern studies at Bearsden Academy, also welcomed the freedom from prescription. Her school already offers cross-curricular modern studies and business education work in S1 and S2, but elsewhere they might not be seen as "traditional bedfellows. From a learning and teaching point of view, it should not be an issue," Ms Shepley said. "But, from a management point of view, it might be."

Robert Locke, faculty head of geography and religious, moral and philosophical studies at Knightswood Secondary in Glasgow, sees more of a "green slant" on geography-related work at the S3 stage, covering sustainability, natural resources and climate change.

He comments on the high number of geography strands for S3 pupils, and suggests this could lead to more pupils continuing with the subject until the end of S3, instead of dropping it in S2, which would lead to demands for more staff.

A Scottish curriculum? (p10-11).

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