ACfE scores zero for content

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Throughout Scotland, teachers are feverishly discussing A Curriculum for Excellence (not all the time - sometimes we do have to teach) and trying to make sense of documentation which is hot on buzz words and cold on real content
Throughout Scotland, teachers are feverishly discussing A Curriculum for Excellence (not all the time - sometimes we do have to teach) and trying to make sense of documentation which is hot on buzz words and cold on real content. The more we talk - and talking is essential - the more suffocating the tunnel becomes.

Be sensible. The S1 and 2 curriculum definitely needs a radical overhaul. This has been so for many years, probably since the poorly planned 5-14 programme was first established. Both my children, now in their early to mid-twenties, rocketed through Primary 7 at a challenging pace, only to spend their early secondary years engaging in the academic equivalent of slow ballet. Plainly, changes are overdue.

But to add S3 to the slow lane seems intuitively wrong. Just how much more dilly-dallying at a broad curriculum (jacks of all trades and masters of none) is necessary before kids get to grips with some specific subjects on their timetables? This may not matter to pupils who have neither the intellect nor the inclination to specialise, but it will be important for the future doctors, lawyers, dentists, engineers, accountants and, dare I say it, teachers.

Increasingly loud voices are stating that content doesn't matter. Skills are everything. The "how" is far more important than the "what". That's OK, but I don't want my appendix removed by a doctor whose subject knowledge is sketchy because of some nebulous aim to turn out an effective communicator who is enterprise-aware rather than educated in chemistry. Can't we be responsible citizens and be able to achieve our academic potential at the same time? It used to be possible.

Many bright children enter the present S3 with a sigh of relief that they have left behind the destructive effects of the creeping boredom generated by having been taught to the lowest common denominator to accommodate the abilities of all the kids in the class. What if the present early secondary malaise were to creep into S3 and 4? It's difficult enough now to energise S5 and 6 with a simple and indestructible love of learning. Kids should be surging along on the crest of a wave and I have no faith that the new regime will create the conditions to allow for this to happen.

What, then, will early secondary timetables look like in the brave new world of A Curriculum for Excellence? Will there be radical changes? Will it vary from school to school? No one knows. Will all the subjects be thrown up in the air and priorities realigned? Might we have six periods of PE, home economics and philosophy in a week and maybe 10 of enterprise and cut back on the others? Or should we introduce new subjects such as parenting, social graces and common sense? What about reading and writing? You get my drift. It might be like a home education - laid back and lots of choice.

Staffing though - that's an issue. If the curriculum changes, then more of this and less of that will have a huge impact on staffing. Class sizes remain an issue and, from my perspective, that situation has worsened. Throw in more spanners into the works and you have a recipe for chaos. Teachers feel marooned in anxious introspection about an unplanned future and one wonders what mark the evolving Curriculum for Excellence will eventually be awarded. Something close, I fear, to a big zero.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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