After a decade of (sometimes fierce) debate in these pages, a new chapter begins

13th May 2011 at 01:00
As I bow out of the TESS fray, I will be cheering from the sidelines as readers take on the challenges to come

After 13 years of writing for TESS, I've decided to park my quill in its inkwell. I've enjoyed courting debate and sparring with my readers, but it's best to leave when the party is still in full swing.

Producing a column every three weeks for over a decade hasn't always been easy. However, when deadlines loomed, something always came to mind. Ideas were triggered by current issues in education or by particular learning and teaching strategies or conversations with former pupils.

There have been enormous changes in Scottish education since 1998, when I became a columnist. Higher Still courses were slowly being shaped and teachers were expressing great concern about the readiness of the programme to be rolled out.

In the late 1990s every state school in Scotland had to adopt targets for performance. Scottish education was made publicly accountable in a way that had never happened before. Such quality assurance tools are now bedded into the system, although some critics see them as a box-ticking exercise.

What now in 2011? Curriculum for Excellence dominates all educational agendas. Learning is no longer to be a potion spooned out to passive recipients by specialist pedagogues, but a process initiated by the learner. The old jungle of subject tribalism is expected to move aside in favour of increased flexibility, more participation by the pupils and more focus on skills.

Yet human beings have a huge cognitive need for knowledge. This is evidenced when the toddler persists in an infinite regress of questions. The focus on skills blurs when a two-year-old asks what makes the sky blue. Questions about whether Curriculum for Excellence can bear the weight of expectations heaped upon it therefore remain.

Whatever happens in the next decade, I know that TESS and its writers will provide a platform for challenging and discussing the policies that shape education. Constructive disagreement is the miner's canary which gauges the health of developments in our schools.

As for me, I will continue to teach my pupils, research learning strategies, write courses for the new qualifications, watch the somersaults of delight in the brains of my young grandsons as they vault through their own journey to knowledge, and then there is my overdue novel started 30 years ago.

It has been a pleasure working with TESS editors Willis Pickard, Neil Munro and Gillian Macdonald. The contact with my readers has also been very engaging. Like the child whose apparently innocent television programme becomes X-rated when his father slips into the room, I've often been surprised by what ignites vigorous arguments. The cut and thrust of debate engrosses me.

"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it." Voltaire

Marj Adams, Secondary teacher.

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