Ambitions for new curriculum

17th October 2008 at 01:00
Schools involved in the Schools of Ambition programme, which the Scottish Government aims to abolish, are "particularly well placed" to implement the new curriculum

Schools involved in the Schools of Ambition programme, which the Scottish Government aims to abolish, are "particularly well placed" to implement the new curriculum, according to new research.

The programme - which has given an annual boost of Pounds 100,000 to 52 secondaries to help them transform their performance - has developed teacher professionalism, decision-making and planning and evaluation, according to Ian Menter of Glasgow University.

This has happened because the method of evaluating the Pounds 16 million programme, which was launched in 2005, has been a "quite radical departure" from the way in which the Government has evaluated previous projects.

Instead of HMIE or similar bodies coming in to investigate how successful the programme has been teachers, helped by mentors in higher education, have been responsible for assessing whether they are living up to the goals outlined in their school's three-year transformational plan.

"An external evaluation might have evaluated the Schools of Ambition programme but it would not have helped each school to improve and forward- plan," said Professor Menter. "This is a more locally-based approach to evaluation.

"Now these schools are particularly well placed to engage with A Curriculum for Excellence, because they are taking responsibility for curriculum development already and evaluating that curriculum development."

However, the research method has not been without its problems. He expresses concern in a research paper Policy making in teacher education and professional development in Scotland, co-authored with colleague Moira Hulme, that a "lower value" is attached to teacher-led inquiry than outside evaluation.

Also, where unpromoted teachers have been carrying out the research, traditional school hierarchies have sometimes got in the way, he says.

The Scottish Government has agreed to support Schools of Ambition until 2010, after which the initiative will be terminated and the cash more evenly distributed.

CASE STUDY

The head of St Ninian's High in East Dunbartonshire, Paul McLaughlin, agrees with Ian Menter that participation in the Schools of Ambition programme has left it better placed to adopt the new curriculum.

"A Curriculum for Excellence is about good teaching in the classroom," he says. "It's about making classrooms more exciting and interesting than they were before, more of the time."

And this is exactly what the school has been trying to do, he says.

St Ninian's had originally planned to use the programme funding to develop its modern languages, but the focus became "motivating and engaging pupils". It has "themed days", when a year group goes off timetable for the day and outside agencies come in to work with them.

Cross-curricular projects have been introduced - a design company worked with pupils to create handbags in art and design and then through business studies, taught them how to sell them.

Mr McLaughlin admits some experiments have failed. But the emphasis on self-evaluation allows St Ninian's to learn from its mistakes - a culture that will prove invaluable when it comes to ACfE.

St Ninian's funding dries up in December, but many of the benefits will be retained by the school, says Mr McLaughlin. The cash injection has been important, Mr McLaughlin admits however. He sympathises with schools having to implement the new curriculum with no additional money, but points out that the lessons learned by schools involved in Schools of Ambition will be shared.

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