Call the midwife, the new curriculum is a difficult labour

13th April 2012 at 01:00
We need an educational expert who will stay with us from conception to birth

What is it about delivering change in Scottish education that is so difficult? I cannot be the only observer feeling a real sense of deja vu for the introduction of Higher Still more than a decade ago as the roll- out of Curriculum for Excellence continues.

When Higher Still was born nearly 13 years ago (it seems like only yesterday) there was pandemonium. Union leaders paced about and reached for the fags, politicians made emotional outbursts and letters pages were full of worried teachers expressing their misgivings.

Interestingly, it was often said back then that Higher Still was experiencing the same difficulties that the arrival of Standard grade had endured 20 years before.

One difference I detect between Higher Still and Curriculum for Excellence is that Higher Still was conceived during that long, eventful marriage between Scotland and its Conservative government of 1979-1997 - but delivered by a new husband.

Those 18 years were a rather tempestuous relationship and between 1997 and 2000 there were four spouses: Raymond Robertson, the Conservative minister; Brian Wilson and Helen Liddell, Scottish Office Labour ministers; and then, following devolution, Sam Galbraith in the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive. Then in the next six years the minister changed, Dr Who-like, another four times with Jack McConnell, Cathy Jamieson, Peter Peacock and Hugh Henry all wearing the wedding band.

We have had five years of the SNP wearing the trousers with, thankfully, only two ministers, Fiona Hyslop and Mike Russell, which should have led to a smoother introduction of the new curriculum.

One reason educational change is difficult is that the gestation period for any Scottish development is so long and laboured. Clearly an educational midwife is called for on such occasions; a senior project manager that is contracted to stay with the pregnancy from conception to birth - while ministers come and go.

The revelation that many teachers are unsure about the basic tenets of Curriculum for Excellence must be privately worrying to Mike Russell. While there's every reason to expect that teachers might already be in a better place since they were surveyed last year, such were the sizeable proportions of teachers harbouring doubts that even an improvement must still leave too many unsure of what it all means and how to progress.

I recall Raymond Robertson telling me that when he asked his officials if Higher Still was ready, they said it was and presented him with documentation that was being supplied to teachers. When Labour swept in it was a quick win to agree with the unions and delay matters for a year.

Mike Russell's problem is that with every concession he makes he points the finger at Fiona Hyslop - or even himself. Time to call a midwife and shift the blame.

Brian Monteith, Political commentator.

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