Advisers have never been more needed

19th May 2006 at 01:00
We've heard from Peacock's Prophets but Peter Tarrant asks, where are his disciples?

s one of the many people inspired at the recent conference on Ambitious, Excellent Schools by Peter Peacock's affirmation of progress, I was left with one big question. We have heard from the man himself. We have heard of his desire for excellence, and we have even heard some of the details about how teachers are to be set free from the shackles of an overly prescriptive curriculum. But what we have not heard is how we are to be supported in these exciting times.

Surely it is time to resurrect Peacock's disciples: that is, the post of adviser, in its true sense, in every authority. Time was when every teacher knew their adviser on personal terms: they visited schools, spread ideas of good practice, organised (and often led) in-service days and, above all, advised.

With all due respect to quality improvement officers, the post has long since been swallowed up by the need for a more accountable approach to education. The recent incarnation has left little time for motivating and inspiring teachers to be creative and innovative.

Certainly, there is no time to sit and chat about the curriculum and promote thoughts and ideas on how to provide depth and "a multidisciplinary approach". What is needed to bring about change at the speed required by the minister are the "disciples", advisers to spread the word - experienced and enthusiastic people who will be able to inspire, enabling schools to take a risk and to explore the possibilities of the current reforms in A Curriculum for Excellence.

We need people who will reassure teachers, schools and authorities that they do have the freedom to be creative; that they do have the flexibility to innovate; and, above all, that they do have the right, and the responsibility, to interpret the curriculum in a way which connects with their particular learners.

When I came into teaching, it was the creative opportunities that lured me - the idea that I could look at the curriculum, link the learning outcomes with the interests of the pupils and then be creative and able to share that voyage of learning discovery.

I believe the decluttering of the curriculum presents us with the opportunity to develop teacher autonomy, to set us free from the notion of a rigid, prescriptive style of education. It provides us with the scope to be inspiring, dynamic teachers, like the ones we remember from our own childhood.

There is a whole field of development just around the corner, where a more thematic approach is adopted and where the four competencies underpin everything we teach. Pupil empowerment and much more of a "learning community approach" seem to me to be the way forward.

Many schools and teachers who have only just got 5-14 embedded into their practice will need support to tackle the whole issue of unifying the curriculum and finding the space for learning in depth. It will need passionate marketing to convince them to turn their backs on a "safe"

prescriptive curriculum and strive instead for one that will empower pupils to be successful citizens.

Support will be needed to take staff away from a system still dominated by "product" towards one where the "process" is celebrated as an important step on the way to excellence. This cannot be done by quality improvement officers. Nor can it be left to the sporadic spreading of the word through optional CPD programmes. What is needed is a team of inspirational advisers strategically working to lead us on to the next plateau of curriculum development.

I remember the introduction of 5-14. So many people in so many schools were inventing the same wheel. So many teachers were saying: "Just tell us what to teach and we will teach it." Thankfully, we have moved on to a more reflective climate. With the influx of so many enthusiastic and talented teachers, we are in an ideal position to look at the restructured curriculum and develop more individualised, more relevant interpretations of the curriculum. There is so much more curricular confidence there now, yet there is the reluctance and the suspicion that accountability will snare any creative thinking.

Advisers with the authority to reassure us that it is OK to miss something out, to link something, or to focus on some learning opportunity may well be essential. Certainly, we need some kind of guide to take us away from the security of a prescribed curriculum to one where teachers and pupils feel empowered to take more responsibility for what they learn and for how they learn.

So where are they, these disciples? We need them to spread the word, to convert the unbelievers, to take us from our dependence to a new level of creative education, to set us free from the restrictions of the past.

If the Education Minister wants excellent schools, where is our excellent help?

Peter Tarrant is depute head of Kingsland primary in Peebles.

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