Bridging cultural divide

14th March 1997 at 00:00
Scottish teachers need high-quality materials for 5-14

The way education is thought of in the north is different," says Robbie Robertson, assistant director of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (SCCC). Hardly surprising really, given that curriculum guidelines and assessment continue to maintain an independent stance.

The "national" curriculum still seems something of a misnomer - which nation? As education gathers heat in the pre-election debate, the key issues queue up for lineage and air-space. Resources, or lack of them, rarely lose their place near the head of the queue and the electorate is gradually getting to grips with the terminology of the system. Key stages and years, though perhaps not instantly recognisable, follow a logical pattern and are clearly explained in any national curriculum document. Resources are, by and large, fully cross-referenced to the national curriculum, and offer a clarity of approach for pupil, parent and teacher.

But the average teacher in Scotland, who has rarely taught in England or Wales and has little inclination to learn the prescriptive national curriculum terminology, encounters it in virtually every textbook or resource published by the main UK publishing houses. And many of these are simply not appropriate for the Scottish curriculum.

Harsh economic realities have caused the virtual collapse of indigenous Scottish publishers with a company like Nelson Blackie, for example, losing its Scottish foothold in Bishopbriggs in favour of a Walton-on-Thames base. But more publishers seem at last to be recognising the needs of Scottish teachers, and adapting books for the 5-14 guidelines.

Alison Payne, Scottish representative of Nelson Blackie, points out that the widely used Nelson English course, for example, has guide- lines not only for the Scottish 5-14 curriculum but also for Northern Ireland. And Longman's English Reading 2000 scheme was actually written in Scotland, using 5-14 as a starting point.

There are two key points at issue here. First, the rationale, terminology and methodology of any subject in the 5-14 programme. And second, the content of subjects like English or environmental studies which is specifically Scottish and has little or no overlap with the national curriculum.

Talking to teachers and advisers about materials with no overtly Scottish guidelines, their attitude seems strangely contradictory. Initially, there is an air of offence that little attention is ever paid to the Scottish system, but that is followed by a widely-held view that teachers can produce what they need themselves, and that they do.

Both David McCartney, English adviser in Highland Council, and Sheila Hughes, lecturer at Jordanhill College, Glasgow, say the production of resource materials for English has never been a problem for the Scottish teacher. While Mr McCartney admits that Oxford and Heinemann produce suitable books, he feels that the home-grown material is frequently the preferred option.

Gloria West, of Whitehill Secondary School in Dennistoun, Glasgow, agrees. Her school has produced four very successful English teaching packs, and she admits that writing them has been a very pleasant part of the job.

David McCartney expresses frustration at having less opportunity to become involved in valuable resource development work. The inevitable time constraints of classroom teaching, lack of funding and the reduction in advisory staff since disaggregation last year, have, say McCartney and West, led to cuts in home-grown materials for English 5-14.

An attempt by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum to pool the best of the regional working party materials in the early Nineties had little success. Jan Ward, history adviser for North Ayrshire, stresses the value of working groups developing 5-14 materials for her own subject in the context of the environmental studies programme.

But if teachers lack confidence in teaching history, as is sometimes suggested, then surely material that is Scottish both in format and content is needed immediately? It seems wrong that primary teachers in particular should be "making do" with their present resources. A recent SCCC report on history claims that there is a "growing demand" for high-quality resources to support the subject. This is in fact one area where the publishers have begun to respond (see opposite page). Addison Wesley, Longman's A Sense of History series, for example, has been extended to include a set of Scottish books with teachers' guidelines for 5-14.

But for the People in the Past strand within the integrated whole of environmental studies, primary teachers seem happy to rely on a combination of revamped existing materials, some national curriculum material and a considerable input of their own work, apparently reflecting current practice in many other subject areas.

With such a wealth of talent in Scottish teachers and a curriculum waiting to be resourced, it seems wrong that more is not produced. English and primary teachers alike have enthused, for example, over The Kist, an award-winning anthology and pack of Scottish texts (see page 8). Produced jointly by Nelson Blackie and the SCCC, this provides the type of resource needed in both primary and secondary.

Of course the Scottish market is small, but with the publication of more integrated packs like The Kist, Scottish schools could perhaps begin to resource themselves independently for their own curriculum. It's important, as publishing tenders are being made for Higher Still, that pupils in the first 5-14 cohort are not left either with books emblazoned with irrelevant key stage information or, in the absence of a glossy 5-14 publication, with a photocopied sheet which will "just have to do".

Forget key stages 1-4. Scottish teachers need their own high-quality materials for the 5-14 and Higher programmes, argues Jane Walker

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