Call to sway ACfE sceptics

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Architect of curriculum says stakeholders must be encouraged to engage more in reforms

Another call came in the past week from one of the architects of A Curriculum for Excellence to get teachers and parents more involved in the reform.

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University and a member of the review group which originated the curriculum plans, compared himself to Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: he was willing to talk to "anybody, any time and in any context" about ACfE, as more dialogue was needed for the whole profession to get on board.

"There is a school of thought that is very sceptical," he told a special session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. "It's a valid position. Some teachers coming out of 5-14 have been de-professionalised and de-skilled. Now, someone is saying: `You are autonomous professionals and you are going to co-create the curriculum.'"

Professor Boyd called for a programme of continuing professional development for A Curriculum for Excellence, similar in size and scale to that used to embed Assessment is for Learning in schools. "That made huge inroads in a short period of time," he said.

The Government was also failing to engage with parents, he said. "A lot of parents know a bit and are worried a bit, but they don't know much and they don't know why we are changing things," he added.

The national debate on education held in 2002, which set the whole process in motion, had passed the majority of people by, he said. It had failed to "sweep the nation" and "get everybody excited". Professor Boyd said it was "the usual suspects" who had responded.

Schools therefore had to drive things forward through "perspiration, not inspiration", he said. Since he was appearing at the book festival, he turned to books by influential educational thinkers for his own inspiration.

Among them was Howard Gardner's book Extraordinary Minds, which attempted to identify what made geniuses like Picasso and Beethoven great.

"Gardner argued they were not necessarily all the most intelligent people of their generation or the most creative or thoughtful, but something made them stand out," he said. "That quality, Gardner concluded, was self- belief, resilience and the ability to take failure head on. Perspiration rather than inspiration is what you want to generate."

Other books on the Boyd list included Inside the Black Box by Paul Black, about formative assessment, which recognises that young people learn more effectively when they know why; The Teaching for Understanding Guide, by Tina Blythe, which argues pupils must know how to think, not just accumulate facts; Self Theories by Carol Dweck, which highlights the need for schools to encourage pupils to think of intelligence as something that can be grown and is not set; and Jerome Bruner's The Process of Education.

Meanwhile, in this week's TESS, one of the other driving forces behind ACfE expands on his well-aired view that the vision of "transformational change" behind the new curriculum was in danger of being lost.

Keir Bloomer, who sat on the review group with Professor Boyd, said ACfE could end up as "no more than a somewhat random collection of ideas for incremental change (which) will, no doubt, bring modest improvements".

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