Chewing the fat on timetables

14th May 2004 at 01:00
The emerging debate in The TES Scotland during the past few weeks over the claims on curriculum time by different subject groups, arguments which have different starting points, illustrates just what a thankless task has confronted the Executive's curriculum review group. The proponents of classics, history and home economics, among others, have lost no time in letting us know why their subjects are essential to human society as we know it (pages 2, 6 and 20). Not only that, all are said to be essential to the achievement of various Government policies, whether it be the attack on obesity, or the cultural revolution preached by the First Minister, or the introduction of flexibility into the curriculum.

The Education Minister has said more than once that he does not wish to have a beauty parade of subjects knocking on his door to state their case.

But their proponents would not be human if they failed to do so. Curriculum reformers in the past have often nodded towards the need to weaken the subject-based strongholds of the secondary curriculum, which is why we now have Munn's curricular modes. But it is not as simple as that. The subject-based curriculum may have its critics, but a convincing alternative has yet to be formulated.

We must also recognise that the curriculum may only be partly susceptible to planning. Market forces will probably always play a part, whether they take the form of parent support for and pupil interest in particular subjects or the supply of teachers - factors that are themselves related.

The curriculum review group will no doubt have turned to the words of wisdom in the 1947 Advisory Council report on secondary education. Its report stated: "We have tried to make an approach to the curriculum more practical by bringing the general question why we teach this or that into sharper focus in the form - why do we teach this subject to these particular pupils at this particular stage?" That could be a sharp, and productive, test for the review group to apply.

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