Calls for clear steer

19th September 2008 at 01:00
Teachers show `ambivalence' towards the curriculum reforms

Teachers across Scotland say they need a "major programme" of continuing professional development if they are to put the new curriculum into practice.

New teachers are in particular need of support to translate the broad statements of intent - the "draft outcomes and experiences" - into classroom practice, an interim report by a team from Glasgow University has found.

The report, which was commissioned by Learning and Teaching Scotland and is published today, reveals enthusiasm for the principle of giving teachers more professional freedom and scope to be creative, but deep- seated concerns about how to assess progress and match the reformed curriculum with the proposed national qualifications.

Teachers were not necessarily asking for more prescription but they were calling for "the key concepts at each `age and stage' to be made more explicit", says the report.

A team of researchers, led by Vivienne Baumfield and Ian Menter, used focus groups, online questionnaires and interviews to compile its analysis of responses to the draft guidance published over the past year on 10 subject areas of A Curriculum for Excellence.

The remaining subjects will be covered in a final report later this year. LTS specifically asked the researchers to give them feedback on four areas - CPD, exemplification, elaboration, and rewriting or editing of the guidance.

Teachers from the 350-plus schools involved in trials of the draft guidance have been positive in their responses, but there are widespread calls for curriculum developers at LTS to provide exemplars which would sit alongside the draft outcomes and experiences.

These exemplars should be "something to work with and adapt - rather than prescription", which would help to get discussion going in each subject and enable teachers to respond with their own interpretation, says the report.

"There was considerable concern that approaches and `standards' may vary across the country because of the scope for variable `interpretation' of the statements," the report states. "These concerns sometimes link to uneasiness about the way in which the statements have been formulated. For example, statements such as `I can explain.' often evoked the response, `Yes, but to what depth can you explain?'"

A number of teachers take issue with the use of the first person in describing pupils' levels of attainment. Some found them neither child- friendly nor reflective of the needs of teachers.

Bernard McLeary, chief executive of LTS, said the "I can." approach would not be changed or revised, as it had been a fundamental part of the brief given to the organisation by the previous Scottish Executive, reflecting the need for the curriculum to be learner-centred.

Recommendations based on the report's findings will be presented by LTS to the recently-expanded Curriculum for Excellence management board, which will then decide on the next steps.

Earlier this summer, Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, asked the management board to widen its membership to include local authority chief executives, directors of education, the teaching unions and the two headteachers' organisations. They will have to find a way of allaying teachers' fears over how to interpret the curriculum guidance when they do not know the final form of assessment and certification.

Mr McLeary said one of the biggest changes was that learning was driving assessment and certification, rather than the other way around. He stressed that LTS and the Scottish Qualifications Authority were working closely in developing the new curriculum and forms of assessment.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The headline messages echo what we have heard from elsewhere - on, for instance, timescales for implementation, exemplification and CPD. Work in these areas is ongoing, and the situation on which the report comments is work in progress. The commentary provided by the interim report is not definitive and it is for the management board to direct the final action in the light of its interpretation and analysis of the reports it receives."

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